Obama’s hollow debt victory

Obama’s hollow debt victory

President Obama’s victory over congressional Republicans is likely to have a short shelf life.

Even the president’s staunchest allies are skeptical that his triumph in the debt-ceiling battle has produced much capital for the White House to spend on priorities like immigration reform.

“I don’t know that this changes anything,” one former senior administration official said. “I don’t think the president has new mojo from this.”

“What did they really do? They brought the country to the same place where we were a few weeks ago,” the former official said. “This isn’t like he passed healthcare. He ended a government shutdown and raised the debt limit. Those are routine items. It’s not like he campaigned on it.”


Obama took his second victory lap in two days Thursday on the heels of the bipartisan deal, chiding congressional Republicans for engaging in political brinksmanship with the economy on the day the government reopened after a 16-day shutdown.

He also blamed the GOP — as he has in recent days — for bringing the nation dangerously close to defaulting on the debt limit. 

“You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position,” Obama said in the State Dining Room at the White House. “Go out there and win an election.”

“Push to change it,” the president said. “But don’t break it.”

While he rallied White House allies with the sentiment, he also angered Republicans, who felt it was a sucker punch.

“The president’s admonishment ignores his own shortcomings,” said one senior Republican adviser working on Capitol Hill. “The fact is, he shares equal blame for the shutdown. It’s not as if the stalemate was created overnight. The shutdown is fallout from Obama’s lack of outreach and his ineffective approach to being a leader.”

The GOP adviser — who acknowledged defeat in the fight — said Obama’s admonition was “entirely void of the substance of the debate and designed to demonize legitimate opposition.

“[It] totally ignored was the president’s own past opposition to raising the debt ceiling and the months leading to this episode when the White House could have been working with Congress to avoid such a crisis,” the adviser said.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said he didn’t expect relations between Obama and Republicans to improve.

“No one has political capital at this point to really accomplish major legislative initiatives by the end of this year,” Bonjean said. “It’s highly unlikely that any comprehensive immigration reform bill would be able to move through the House after such a bruising fight over the shutdown and the debt ceiling.”

The former senior administration official seemed to agree, saying any hope for cooperation on a comprehensive immigration bill seems unlikely.

“No way,” the former official said. “I don’t see how it happens.”

Another former White House official saw things differently and argued Obama now has a real shot at securing a victory on the immigration bill.

“The trick here is to capitalize on the moment without spiking the football,” the former official said. “On immigration, if he could tailor what he’s doing as part of functionality and not as politics, that would be key."

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University said Obama could capitalize on the victory simply by seizing on a Republican Party “in disarray.”

On immigration, “it’s a question of whether he can develop the issue in such a way that that it’ll give them little choice,” Jillson said, adding that Obama “can make the argument that it is critical in a number of ways.”

It remains to be seen whether Republicans can resolve their differences and present a united front to Obama before the next budget and fiscal deadlines in early 2014.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE made it known Thursday that he would not allow another government shutdown as part of a strategy to repeal ObamaCare.

"I think we have fully now acquainted our new members with what a losing strategy that is," McConnell told The Hill in an interview.

Obama on Thursday, as the GOP licked their wounds, pledged to “look for willing partners” across the aisle to “get important work done.”

But another former senior administration official said Obama’s second term is dependent on the outcome the “Republican Civil War,” and whether Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) is willing to pass an immigration bill without a majority of the GOP.

“If John Boehner wants to play ball and is finally willing to ditch the Hastert Rule, there’s no limit on what can get done,” the former official said.

“If, however, he only compromised to avoid catastrophic default and now wants to restore control of the House to the Tea Party, very little will get done.”