The president, strengthened by the recent conflict, called for the creation of a new budget and immigration reform.
Although he himself said, “There are no winners here,” it’s clear that Barack Obama emerged as the winner from a crisis that has tarnished the international reputation of the United States, shaken peaceful coexistence and caused considerable economic damage. But it has also undermined, at least temporarily, the influence of conservative extremism and has leveled the playing field for cooperation between the moderate factions of both parties. The president has taken advantage of this to call for unity and organize the implementation of the reforms suspended by a confrontation resolved in dire straits.
“All of us,” said Obama in an appearance where he expressed gratitude toward “responsible Republicans” for their contribution to the temporary solution to the budget crisis, “need to stop focusing on the lobbyists and the bloggers and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do and that's grow this economy, create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, educate our kids, lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul.”
Obama called for unity and reason after several weeks in which all manner of offensive insults flooded the American media, Confederate flags were waved and intense hatred that has been accumulating for years was expressed, especially against the president. “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president?” he said. “Go out there and win an election … Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building.”
There is effectively now a window of opportunity to do things that were delayed, not just during the crisis, but also in the months before. The president, who has managed to sort out the situation without a single concession and has demonstrated a moderation unusual in Washington in these times, has acquired new authority. But it’s a narrow window and it could close again at any moment. The agreement that the Senate and the House of Representatives approved after 16 days of administrative standstill and only hours before the suspension of all payments would take effect, extended the budget until Jan. 15 and increased the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. In other words, at the beginning of next year we could find ourselves in a similar situation to what has just happened.
In fact, after accepting his defeat, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner announced that the battle would continue. And the considerable portion of the Republican Party that continues to support the politics of the tea party, far from admitting any mistake, blamed the failure on the cowardice of its more centrist members. Although the vote eventually passed in the House thanks to Democratic Party votes, it should be noted that 144 of the 234 members of the Republican Party voted against it, demonstrating the power and influence of the tea party.
Under these conditions, the leadership of the Republican Party will be obligated, at least until the legislative elections next year, to follow the Democratic Party in passing laws (as occurred on Wednesday) or accept the always radical and sometimes irrational decree of the tea party. It’s a difficult decision because it’s never easy for a party to admit such weakness.
But with due caution, the conditions now are more favorable than yesterday for reaching agreements. Politicians have felt the impact of their loss of prestige and the entire country is conscious of the risk it has been exposed to and the damage to its international leadership. Obama is trying to take advantage of the moment, as he declared yesterday, to push three important objectives forward before the end of the year: a new budget, immigration reform and agrarian law.
The budget is, without a doubt, the most urgent in order to avoid problems at the beginning of 2014, but it’s also the most complicated. Reconciling such currently divergent points of view about taxes — which the tea party has forced the Republicans to swear they would not increase — and public spending seems like an insurmountable task.
Immigration reform is not going to be any easier. It has been approved in the Senate since the spring but must pass the same obstacle as always, the House. Obama is counting on the support of moderate Republicans, who think that not passing it would be, after the shot in the foot of the administrative shutdown, a shot to the head for electoral success for decades.
But this isn’t what the tea party has planned. Their primary objective is to prevent the legalization of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, mostly Mexicans and Hispanics, to whom it attributes the watering down of American national character. These Republicans are counting on the support of various Democrats who compete in conservative districts and who listen to the voice of their electorate, not Obama’s.
This is why the timeline Obama put in place yesterday is essential. If all of this isn’t done by the end of the year, it will be much more difficult next year, when electoral considerations will be much more pressing — legislative elections are in November.
The recuperation of international prestige will have to be slower. “Probably,” said Obama, “nothing has done more damage to America's credibility in the world, our standing with other countries, than the spectacle that we've seen these past several weeks.”