How did Paul Ryan and Patty Murray manage to cobble together a two-year budget agreement that got over 300 voted in the House? Bob Woodward told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that the formula was obvious — keep the White House, and especially Barack Obama, on the sidelines:
BOB WOODWARD: I think this budget deal worked, quite frankly – let’s go right to the center of this – because Obama was not part of the negotiations. He is not a good negotiator. And I agree with Bill. I think Paul Ryan comes off as somebody who no one, even Bill is not going to say Ryan is a conservative. He is a conservative, but the philosophy that he employed here is very significant: sitting down with the Democrats and saying what is our common ground? What can we agree on?
And it is indeed small, but it’s a step forward. And what it does is it strengthens Ryan, but it also strengthens Boehner in a very, very significant way. He got way over 300 votes for this, and he said I, you know, he castigated the ultra-right-wing and the outsiders. And so I think he’s in a position maybe they can deal on some of these things.
Noel Sheppard asks, “Will others in the media feel comfortable pointing this out?” I don’t think that Obama has much of a reputation as a negotiator even among the media, though, because he’s been clearly uninterested in that role. He pointedly refused to show any leadership at all in the September showdown that produced the shutdown, probably because he correctly assumed that the GOP would take all the blame for it. Obama presumably thought the damage would last a lot longer than it did, but the ObamaCare disaster has that in the distant past.
This time, I’d guess that the missing ingredient was Harry Reid, who played a critical role in forcing a showdown in September and October but who seems to have been largely absent in this negotiation, at least publicly. Reid might want to produce another showdown and distract attention from ObamaCare, but it doesn’t appear he will get his way. If the deal fails in the Senate, blame will fall on the Democrats, who have more than enough votes to pass it alone if needed. That means that Reid will end up being the obstructionist this time around, and he’s smart enough to realize it.
Most of the issues with the deal have already been raised, but I’d just add that the ability to give only a little and put the next round of negotiations past the election is probably — probably — worth the modest trade-offs from a strategic point of view. With the budget done until 2015, the big issue will remain ObamaCare and its disastrous impact on Americans, and the deal deprives Democrats of the last issue big enough to distract from it before the midterms, especially since the next budget cycle would have become acute just as the employer mandates really disrupt the markets.