The debt deal: Winners and losers

Republicans and Democrats have hammered out a last-minute agreement to raise the debt ceiling and cut over $2 trillion. If it passes, will anyone be happy?

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.)
(Image credit: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

Late Sunday, President Obama and the Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress agreed on a deal to raise the debt limit, in the last best hope for averting a punishing U.S. debt default starting Tuesday. The plan cuts about $1 trillion in spending over 10 years, creates a 12-member congressional panel that will reduce the deficit by at least another $1.2 trillion or trigger automatic spending cuts, and effectively raises the debt limit through the 2012 election. While both houses of Congress are expected to vote on the plan Monday, passage is uncertain, especially in the House. If the plan is enacted, who wins and who takes a beating?


Tea Party

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Just days ago, even mainstream Republicans were deriding the Tea Partiers in the House as "hobbits," says Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. Well, "the 'hobbits' won," wresting huge spending cuts and no tax increases from howling Democrats even though the GOP controls just one chamber of Congress. The deal is a huge "Tea Party victory," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, but it could have been greater if "the Jim DeMint-Michele Bachmann-Sean Hannity" crowd hadn't stripped House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of leverage through their "back-bench revolt."

President Obama

Obama "needed a deal of some sort to prove that he was capable of making the government work," and he got one, says Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. And as bad as the deal is for liberals, it's probably "about as non-bad as it could have gotten" this late in the game, says Jonathan Chait in The New Republic. It might even help "rebuild Obama's image," especially with independents. Obama comes out "looking comparatively moderate," says Tim Stanley in The Telegraph, because he let the GOP "drive the debate and thus get saddled with all the bad publicity" from the bloody standoff.

Mitch McConnell

"As the debt-ceiling talks seem to be coming to an end," says Ray Rahman in New York, the Senate Minority Leader's pivotal role has made him "a surprising crowd favorite." McConnell (R-Ky) was "like the [Yankees'] Mariano Rivera of the debt deal," says The Washington Post's Cillizza. "He waited until the game was in its final moments, came onto the field and helped close things down (in a good way)." By making himself the "voice of reason and frankness" on the GOP side, McConnell got exactly the kind of deal he likes — one "with him at the center of negotiations."

David Wu

The exiting Oregon congressman may be the only House Democrat who was somewhat happy with the headline-grabbing debt standoff, says Cillizza. I mean, "has a member of Congress forced to resign amid a sex scandal ever drawn less media attention? Somewhere, Anthony Weiner is grimacing."



"Democrats are going to lose this one," says Ezra Klein in The Washington Post, but that doesn't mean the GOP will come out smelling like roses. "If this debt-ceiling debate is producing any political winners or beneficiaries, they have no connection to Congress," says Charlie Cook in National Journal. Both houses and both parties have bungled this so badly, and for so little gain, that "they are becoming national jokes." Worse, they are making America a "laughingstock," too. I doubt members of Congress even "fully appreciate what they are doing to themselves," but they will, come next election.

President Obama

Let's face it, this deal is "an abject surrender on the part of the president," says Paul Krugman in The New York Times. And the GOP will surely be emboldened by the way "Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats." Any way you slice it, this is a disaster for Obama, his party, and the economy on which their political survival hangs. Obama clearly damaged his standing with liberals, without (so far) picking up any support from independents, says George Condon Jr. in National Journal. This "combination of a depressed base and a disillusioned center is potentially toxic to the president."

The economy

One of the big takeaways from the deal is that "Washington will do nothing more to boost jobs and growth," says Matt Miller in The Washington Post. This deal completely ignores our "epic jobs crisis," while remaining "utterly inadequate" to the task of solving our long-term deficit. Worse, this foolish dose of fiscal austerity will "damage an already depressed economy," says Krugman in The Times. "Slashing spending while the economy is depressed won't even help the budget situation much, and might well make it worse."

John Boehner

The House speaker is "crowing" that the GOP got "98 percent of what we wanted," says Tim Stanley in The Telegraph. But don't let that fool you: "Boehner is wounded" by the fight to get there. The hostage-taking "strategy that Tea Party freshmen compelled him to follow was high-risk and troubling to the average voter, especially the elderly." Boehner was so concerned about "losing his right wing," he didn't realize "he never had them to begin with," says Joshua Green in The Atlantic. Now, after tacking far right, Boehner will emerge "significantly diminished" when he has to rely on Democrats to pass the final deal.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.