Obama Actually Won the Debt Ceiling Fight

US President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union address
MANDEL NGAN | AFP | Getty Images
US President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union address

Many political observers are treating the deal to raise the debt ceiling as a great victory for Republicans. But the truth is this is potentially a big win for President Barack Obama, if you assume that his objective is advancing his re-election chances rather than enacting a progressive political agenda.

On policy matters, the Republican leadership won a lot of concessions.

But nearly all the concessions may work to the political advantage of Obama.

Start with the fact that Obama now doesn’t have to worry about raising the debt ceiling until after the 2012 election. Since the American people are greatly opposed to government borrowing, Obama really wanted to avoid having to advocate for more debt in an election year.

Now he won’t have to.

And let’s take this issue of an automatic “trigger” for across-the-board budget cuts if Congress rejects plans to be presented this autumn by a new deficit reduction committee.

Here’s how my brother Tim Carney explains the politics of how this will work to Obama’s advantage:

Instead, the "trigger" in the new compromise bill sets up a debate that Obama can easily cast as a fight between cutting Medicare and raising taxes on Big Oil, corporate jet owners and the richest 1 percent.

If raising taxes on these politically disfavored classes was really the Democrats' priority, they could have done it already — either before the 2010 elections or by driving a harder bargain in the last three budget battles. But instead, their priority is debating these targeted tax increases and pretending they will save Medicare from insolvency.

This morning on Worldwide Exchange, Nicole Lapin pointed out that the apparent victory by Republicans in the debt ceiling debate will now give the GOP “ownership” of the economy. That’s another victory for Obama because the economic outlook right now looks very, very bleak.

In short, this was a great victory for the electoral prospects of Obama — even if it was a loss for the prospects of progressive political achievements.

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