WASHINGTON — Don't feel too reassured: The congressional leaders who managed to strike a deal Wednesday apparently avoided a disastrous default but still live in the District of Dysfunction.
The compromise outlined by Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell at midday doesn't resolve the issues that prompted a 16-day government shutdown and threatened the first-ever national default. It simply pushes the deadlines over them into the next few months.
That said, some of those involved in this cliffhanger episode over the past month emerge strengthened and others weakened as they move to more battles over managing the government's finances and defining its role.
Here's the early line on winners and losers.
• Winner: President Obama.
He did what he said he would, rebuffing entreaties to get involved in negotiations and effectively using the bully pulpit to bash Republicans as unwilling to do their jobs at the expense of average Americans. Demands that his signature Affordable Care Act be derailed went nowhere.
"He's going to have to fight another battle pretty quickly," says Patrick Griffin, chief congressional liaison in the Clinton White House. "But he may have won a war on using the debt limit this way," making Republicans think twice about repeating such brinkmanship when the debt ceiling has to be raised again in February.
That victory wouldn't extend to spending issues, he cautions, referring to the continuing resolutions that fund the government in the absence of a budget. "The CR, that's still fair game."
• Loser: House Speaker John Boehner. He looked hapless and humiliated, unable to unite his divided caucus behind a bill. In the end, he reluctantly agreed to bring a measure to the House floor that is likely to need Democratic votes to pass, a violation of the so-called Hastert Rule. That's an informal understanding that legislation in the GOP-controlled House should pass with GOP votes.
"He's bearing the brunt of the loser label," acknowledges Republican consultant Phil Musser. "But there was probably not a way to avoid that label from the outset, because of the tectonics of his caucus and the realities of the Republican Party right now." Musser says Boehner was "trying to balance a lot of impossible tasks" in getting Tea Party supporters to reach an accommodation with more moderate Republicans, not to mention Democrats.
A Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday afternoon showed Boehner's unfavorable rating rising among both Tea Party Republicans and other Republicans
.• Winner: The Tea Party and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement brought on this crisis with a demand to delay or defund Obamacare — and they failed. Even so, there were payoffs for the conservative movement. "Their base is as riled up as it's ever been, and they're raising record amounts of money," Griffin says.
Cruz, the unyielding freshman who led the campaign against the Affordable Care Act, emerged as the clear standard-bearer for the movement, a boost to his possible bid for the presidential nomination in 2016. Cruz's favorable rating among Tea Party supporters in the Pew poll shot up to 74% from 47% in June.
When McConnell was beginning to speak on the Senate floor to describe the deal, CNN cut away to show an unapologetic Cruz fielding questions in a hallway outside. "Unfortunately, once again it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people," Cruz said — a charge Tea Party supporters make against both Republicans and Democrats. He called it "a remarkable victory to see the House engage in a profile of courage."
• Loser: The Republican Party in the 2014 elections. The GOP brand has been battered. The Republican Party gets more of the blame for the showdowns and has seen its favorable rating sink to record lows in some national polls. By wide margins, surveys show Americans see the Republican Party as more extreme in its positions and less willing to work with its opponents.
All that boosts Democratic prospects among independent-minded swing voters for next year's midterm elections.
"Six months ago, it was impossible to make a plausible case that the Democrats were going to take back the House," says Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Now it's starting to look much more plausible."
He cautions it is premature to predict how the political landscape will look in a year, but he notes that Democratic candidate recruitment has been boosted and Democrats are energized. Gaining control of the House would require Democrats to pick up 17 seats. Republican hopes of gaining control of the Senate also could be dented, especially in close battles in North Carolina and Louisiana.
• Winner: Women in the Senate. When Arizona Sen. John McCain rose on the Senate floor Wednesday to talk about the deal, he noted that the leadership for a compromise "came primarily from women in the Senate," adding to laughter: "I won't comment on that further."
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire pushed to establish a bipartisan group that helped negotiate the framework for the final deal. Joining the group were Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
All that underscored the general perception among voters that female officials are more open to compromise than male ones — not to mention the reality that the record 20 women in the Senate claim powerful roles. Consider the key committee chairs involved: The Budget Committee is led by Patty Murray of Washington and Appropriations by Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
• Winner or loser? To be determined: An immigration overhaul. Obama said he would return to the immigration debate as soon as the fiscal crisis was averted. "The day after, I'm going to be pushing to, say, call a vote on immigration reform," he told a Los Angeles TV station Tuesday. The Senate has passed a bipartisan immigration bill; the House hasn't voted on it.
After the last government shutdown, in 1996, President Clinton emerged strengthened, and the Republicans controlling the House, worried about their re-election races, passed major pieces of legislation on welfare and other issues. Griffin, who was working at the White House at the time, says it's possible the same dynamic could happen again.
"It looks a little like '96 to me," he says. "The question is, what is Boehner's calculus after this? Does he just go in the bunker?" Perhaps, but it's also possible he'll want to score some legislative victories. "He could say, let's get immigration done."
Musser, who was a staffer at the Republican National Committee then, says it doesn't feel like 1996 to him, especially given the lack of communication and trust between Obama and Boehner.
He notes the battle lines will be redrawn in short order. "Unfortunately," he says. "it's back to the future in a matter of 60 days."