I suspect that this will be a topic that will be endlessly debated, or at least until the budget debates for FY2012 and entitlement reform begin in earnest. Rather than decide who the biggest winner is, it’s probably easier to focus on who lost more in this debate and its eventual settlement. Before I offer the poll, I’ll walk through some of the options and the arguments for and against each:
- John Boehner — Plenty of people have already expressed anger over his dealmaking, and it remains to be seen whether his caucus will reward or punish him for the budget compromise. As I’ve argued here and here today, Boehner got quite a bit more than seemed possible at the start of the year, considering that the GOP only controlled one chamber of Congress. He also forced Harry Reid and Barack Obama to re-open the DC school voucher program, a small but important pushback on educational reform. He didn’t get the $100 billion in cuts he promised or the $61 billion the House passed, but the House isn’t going to get everything it wants in the 112th Session of Congress, either. He got a budget passed on his terms — cuts — which is more than can be said for …
- Nancy Pelosi — The former Speaker wasn’t even around for the budget compromise. She was in Boston, talking about how great she was as Speaker when, er, her party wouldn’t pass a budget despite having a 77-seat majority and full control of Washington. In the House, the minority is largely irrelevant, so Pelosi didn’t have much to lose except her reputation. Boehner’s ability to close a deal while making her just a voice in the peanut gallery on what was supposed to be her budget did about as much damage to that reputation as possible. Democrats angry over the cuts only have Pelosi to blame for not producing a budget.
- The Tea Party — We’ll hear that compromise by Boehner is some sort of rebuke to the Tea Party from the media, a meme that will gain some traction as Tea Party favorites in Boehner’s caucus publicly criticize the deal. But it’s hard to see how the Tea Party lost at all. At stake in these negotiations was the remainder of non-security discretionary spending in the FY2011 budget, which amounted to somewhere short of $230 billion (the Tea Party pushed to protect defense and security spending). On that playing field, Boehner cut almost $40 billion, or over 17% of the available pool left. He was able to do that because the Tea Party changed the political paradigm in Washington from making slight adjustments to the rate of increase in spending to actual cuts in spending. That paradigm will continue and strengthen now that Boehner proved that cuts are actually possible — and politically beneficial.
- Barack Obama — After months of irrelevancy, supposedly deliberate, Obama sailed in at the last minute to cut a deal with Boehner. That will earn him praise from the usual media suspects, but voters are going to wonder what took him so long. The budget was due last September, and we have been running on a series of several continuing resolutions. Why did Obama wait to get involved until more than halfway into the fiscal year? More to the point, why is he cutting deals with Republicans now when he could have gotten a much better deal from Democrats in 2010? Only a loser waits until he has no leverage, which brings us to …
- Harry Reid — As I pointed out yesterday, Reid could have passed a budget months ago. He may not have been able to act in the absence of a House bill, thanks to Pelosi’s abdication of responsibilities, but the Senate could have passed a response to HR1 earlier this year. That would have forced a conference committee, where Reid could have exercised his influence to the highest degree to get a deal he wanted. Instead, Reid punted. That put Obama in position to do his 11th-hour swoop and take credit for the eventual budget agreement. Reid made himself irrelevant, as opposed to Pelosi’s operational irrelevancy. In the end, Reid was a bystander; Boehner entirely bypassed him and forced Obama to negotiate with him as an equal, a result that raises Boehner’s stature at the expense of Obama and especially Reid. Boehner even strongarmed Reid into giving the Speaker control of the Senate floor with the agreement to hold votes on ObamaCare repeal and Planned Parenthood defunding.
What do you think? Take the poll: