Analysis: Bipartisan deal, bipartisan opposition

July 31, 2011 - 11:58 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The newly struck debt-ceiling compromise between President Barack Obama and the Republican leaders of Congress represents a historic accomplishment of divided government, with all the disappointment that implies for the most ardent partisans inside the two major parties and out.

But it marks an accomplishment nonetheless between a Democratic president elected in 2008 and the Republicans who, Obama memorably said, handed his party a "shellacking" at the polls two years later.

The tea party conservatives won't like it, regretting it doesn't cut spending by more. "Someone has to say no, I will," Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said in a statement emailed from Iowa Sunday night, where she was courting Republicans for her 2012 presidential bid.

Neither will the liberal Democrats, unhappy that it cuts at all. "This deal weakens the Democratic Party as badly as it weakens the country. We have given much and received nothing in return," said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Which means that Obama and his principal Republican antagonist, Speaker John Boehner, will share responsibility for passing it in the House.

The early political tally looks like this:

As the president demanded, the deal would allow the debt limit to rise by enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections. And the White House emphasized that the Pentagon could face its first cuts since the end of the Cold War two decades ago.

Yet it appeared Obama's proposal to extend the current payroll tax holiday beyond the end of 2011 would not be included. Nor would his call for extended unemployment benefits for victims of the recession.

In the trade-off, Republicans would win spending cuts of slightly more than the increase in the debt limit, as they have demanded. "The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down," Boehner told his rank and file.

Yet a conservative campaign to force Congress to approve a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution would be jettisoned. So, too, the far deeper cuts in the budget the Republicans pushed through the House.

Opponents of the Bush-era tax cuts for upper-income wage earners will be unhappy they were not eliminated.

And so on.

Yet, if approved in both houses of Congress by close of business Tuesday, the deal will permit the Treasury to pay bills already incurred by presidents and lawmakers of both parties in times of war and recession. It will probably preserve America's sterling credit rating and reassure investors in financial markets across the globe.

It would also begin to slow the sobering run-up in the nation's debt, which now stands at $14.3 trillion and climbing. And if a special joint committee of lawmakers set up in the compromise can persuade Congress to approve changes in benefit programs or overhaul the tax code, it could potentially reduce red ink by a trillion or so more.

The announcement of an agreement produced the customary flowering tributes from members of Congress to members of Congress.

"Sometimes it seems our two sides disagree on almost everything," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "But in the end, reasonable people were able to agree on this: The United States could not take the chance of defaulting on our debt, risking a United States financial collapse and a worldwide depression."

The polling suggests Americans don't believe that's how their government normally works.

An ABC News-Washington Post survey last month found that 80 percent of those polled said they were angry or dissatisfied with the federal government. About a decade ago, it wasn't half that high.

Seeking distance from that seething voter disappointment is a prime objective for any politician.

And Obama, seeking re-election next year, tried to stand above it at the White House nearly a week ago, with default looming and Congress gridlocked. "The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government," he said.

Boehner followed that night with prime-time remarks of his own, but his real rebuttal came two days later on the House floor.

"I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States. I put revenues on the table in order to come to an agreement to avert us being where we are, but a lot of people in this town can never say yes."

It was a speech he had planned to give 24 hours earlier, part of a plan to outmaneuver Obama and the Democrats in the debt limit endgame.

But that was before the tea party conservatives and others in his rank and file — deeply suspicious of compromise — insisted he rewrite the bill.

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Eds: David Espo is the AP's chief congressional correspondent.