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Congress and the president purchased time with their deal to end the federal government shutdown after 16 days and avoid, literally at the last possible moment, a credit default that would have blocked the government's ability to borrow money and likely sent global stock markets plunging.
The legislation signed by the president shortly after midnight Thursday finances the government only through Jan. 15 and lifts the debt ceiling through Feb. 7.
Whether President Obama and lawmakers can use that time to achieve substantive policy achievements that improve the long-term deficit outlook could come down to the Republican leadership's willingness to again allowing the House of Representatives to vote.
President Obama sounded a hopeful note about the potential for bipartisan compromise. He talked of both sides cooperating on a long-term deficit mitigation plan, on overhauling immigration laws and approving a Farm Bill. The Senate weeks ago approved both immigration reform and a Farm Bill on bipartisan votes, only to see the initiatives stall in the House.
Unfortunately for the president's hopefulness, the dynamics in the House are unchanged. The legislation to fund the government and suspend the debt ceiling short term passed 285-144; the losing voters were all Republicans apparently willing to risk a global economic meltdown and continue the shutdown in their quixotic crusade to block the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). In the end, Republican Speaker Rep. John Boehner of Ohio needed the Democrats and a minority of reasonable Republicans to avoid calamity.
Nothing suggests Speaker Boehner can get those 144 votes for some future "grand bargain." They are not likely to support any deficit-reduction plan that includes tax increases as well as cuts, or one that cuts other than what they want to cut - chiefly the health care law. They cannot be counted on to accept any bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country illegally, even if it comes with provisions to improve border security and better monitor those who arrive with visas, as the Senate bill does. Some even rejected the Farm Bill, because a subsidy to a working farmer is a form of welfare they will not tolerate.
Basically, they have no stomach for passing anything that could be perceived as an achievement for President Obama.
Elected in 2010 after the tea party uprising that resulted from frustration with the Democratic health insurance bill, corporate bailouts and rising debt, these tea party Republicans don't play by the traditional rules of Washington. Most represent carefully mapped districts that lean strongly conservative. Their only fear is losing a primary to a more conservative Republican. They deal in absolutes - against Obamacare, against immigration reform, against welfare, against Obama.
Yet mainstream Republicans, stung by the defeat and the political damage to the party brand caused by this group, should recognize the opportunity. President Obama has again put Medicare and Social Security benefit reductions on the table, recognizing changes to reduce the growing cost of these programs is necessary to assure their sustainability. Republicans should push him on it, at the same time inviting some Democratic infighting for a change as the liberal wing digs in to protect the entitlements.
Smart Republicans should recognize as well the potential to find a compromise that revises and simplifies the unmanageable and detested federal income tax system, long a party goal.
Passing an immigration bill could help rebuild GOP support among Latino voters, necessary if Republicans ever hope to win national elections.
Sensible Republicans in Washington will have to do it without many of the 144. Because if the leadership again allows the 144 to be in charge, nothing will happen, the crisis will resume in a couple of months, as will the damage to the economy, to trust in government, and to the Republican Party.