Had Republicans not been seen as most responsible for the 16-day, partial shutdown of the federal government, they might have been in better position to hold their ground on total spending levels while shuffling the cuts more to their liking.
Had Democrats not been hammered for the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, and for the blowback from Americans who were forced out of insurance plans President Obama promised they could keep, they might have been able to squeeze a lot more concessions on taxes and spending from the GOP.
But they are where they are. What does that mean for us?
It suggests balancing the budget, so we can start addressing our soaring debt, remains a distant possibility for now. Congress still wants us to believe deficit savings that are pushed mostly into future years will actually materialize when we get to those years.
It also suggests the notion that divided government would produce a “grand bargain,” in which Republicans and Democrats would hold hands and leap to their political deaths together, should be put to rest.
Tuesday’s deal is so small because there are so few changes the two parties agree on. There’s not a whole heck of a lot left to quibble about before they’re left to confront the big items: taxes and entitlements.
Maybe this deal builds trust between the two sides. Maybe it just burns up all the kindling without making anyone more willing to haul bigger logs to the fire pit.
Most of all, it suggests we’re still in a holding pattern in which each party tries to tip Washington’s balance of power in its favor.
Republicans will hope this helps burnish their credentials for governing while Obamacare weighs down Democrats, leading to a GOP Senate for the last two years of Obama’s presidency and some momentum heading into 2016.
The political benefits for Democrats are less obvious. They were in a weaker negotiating position because of the way Obamacare has hit them across the board, and they have to hope that blow subsides. If it does, they’ll take one last shot at winning the House and going on a left-wing legislating spree in 2015.
And so the stalemate continues. Given how far to the left Washington veered in 2009 and 2010, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
But considering how many problems remain on the horizon, it isn’t the best, either.