President Obama kept his remarks brief on Wednesday night after the Senate passed a bill ending the shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, but he allowed just enough time for a reporter’s shouted question as he walked away from the podium.
“Mr. President, isn’t this going to happen all over again in a few months?”
Without breaking stride, the president replied: “No.”
Others are less confident.
Interviews with lawmakers, pundits, and activists across a wide ideological spectrum in the final hours of a shutdown Wednesday paint a pessimistic picture of what Congress has learned from the 16-day ordeal.
While some argue that Republicans are dropping too sharply in the polls to take such a hard line on budget negotiations again, most believe that the fundamental dynamics haven’t shifted – meaning more shutdowns and possible defaults could be waiting in the wings. The next standoff could come as soon as January, when the new spending agreement ends or in February, when the new debt ceiling level is reached.
Ex-Congressman Steve LaTourette, a former John Boehner ally now working to reform the Republican Party, said that “nothing will be changed” until Republicans lose more elections for being too extreme.
“Ted Cruz will be the takeaway from the shutdown, and if he becomes the 2016 nominee these events will be the reason,” he said.
Already that seems to be the takeaway among lawmakers who backed Cruz’s Obamacare confrontation. They may not have gotten everything they wanted – actually, anything they wanted – but at least they stood by their principles and energized millions of activists. They call that success.
“I don’t know how anything changes between now and when we hit the next debt ceiling,” Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said. “We are winning the war.”
“The establishment in Washington may have won this battle, but I think people are going to see that we’re willing to stand up for them,” Congressman Raul Labrador said at a panel discussion Wednesday. “That’s the story that you’re going to write in November.”
Among centrist Republicans and Democrats, some expressed hope – though not confidence – that the depth of the right wing’s failure in this month’s policy and political fights might free up Speaker John Boehner’s hand in future negotiations.
“If the last two weeks have resulted in a different course of action moving forward, I think it will have been worth it,” Congressman Aaron Schock, a rising GOP star close to leadership, told MSNBC. “But if we go back to passing legislation that dies in the Senate ad nauseum then I’m not sure that was a learning experience.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham came the closest to actually betting on a shift, telling reporters he expected a new movement to counter conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation who whipped members against any compromise this month.
“There will be a backlash against this—it’s just a matter of time,” he said.
At the heart of these divergent views are very different explanations for what went wrong. To Democrats, the problem is that Republicans underestimated their resolve to put an end to GOP hostage taking.
To centrist Republicans, the problem is that Sen. Ted Cruz hijacked the caucus and forced them into an unwinnable strategy that hurt millions of Americans and dragged their brand through the mud. To Cruz and his allies, the problem is that moderate Republicans undercut their brilliant plan by not seeing it through to the end.
“They all felt the same way before this started,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said of the varying factions. “Now everyone’s had their own views reconfirmed on a big stage with a lot of stakes and a lot of people watching.”
Cruz, for example, celebrated on CNN the “remarkable victory” the House achieved by passing a bill to defund Obamacare in the first place. The failure, he claimed, lay with Senate Republicans who “direct their cannon fire at House Republicans and at those standing with the American People.”
Already some are talking reprisal. Erick Erickson, editor of RedState, tweeted that the Tea Party was “gearing up for a bloody primary season” and warned of a third party movement.
Matt Kibbe, CEO of conservative advocacy group Freedomworks, also told MSNBC that politicians who had undercut the Cruz plan should watch their right flank for challengers.
“We’ll have to see what happens when the dust settles, but I believe the recruitment for primary challengers just went up dramatically with this showdown,” he said.
Prominent centrist critics of the right’s intransigence sounded as gloomy as ever in interviews with MSNBC on Wednesday.
“It would be nice if this debacle broke the fever, and a chastened Cruz and House GOP would let January and February pass without another confrontation,” Norm Ornstein, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a leading intellectual critic of the GOP’s obstructionism, said. “I am highly skeptical of that. Limbaugh is already excoriating the GOP leaders for being spineless, and he will no doubt be joined by other talk radio hosts and bloggers.”
Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse, whose group Americans United For Change ran ads against Republicans during the shutdown, said the win would stiffen Democrats’ spines moving forward. But he didn’t plan to hang up his guns anytime soon.
“The Republicans will have to decide if they want keep fighting losing battles over so-called principle or try to repair themselves with the electorate,” he said. “There’s no indication that the Tea Party which controls the House will allow that to happen.”
Additional reporting by Suzy Khimm