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Q&A: Obama lacks clear edge in next fight with GOP

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 11, 2013 at 2:57 am •  Published: January 11, 2013

Q: What leverage does Obama have?

A: Far more than in the 2011 debt limit fight.

Back then, Obama was worrying about getting re-elected in 2012 and had no interest in a stalemate that could destabilize an already frail economy. Republicans had high hopes of capturing the Senate, hopes that might be enhanced if the economy weakened further. And Boehner's new House majority had momentum and was throwing its weight around.

Yet when the smoke lifted from that fight, polls showed the public largely unhappy with Republicans, considering them too inflexible. Now, Democrats are on offense following Obama's re-election, Democratic gains in the House and Senate and an economy that continues gathering strength, though slowly.

Also helping Obama: The fiscal cliff fight left the GOP divided and Boehner weakened. Most Senate Republicans backed the final compromise between McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden while most House Republicans defied Boehner and opposed it, raising questions about his effectiveness in leading them this year. In addition, the business community, an influential contributor and constituent of the GOP, strongly opposes a federal default. Powerful groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are already making it clear to both parties that lawmakers must raise the debt ceiling, and Democrats think that pressure will be felt by Republicans.

Q: What makes Republicans think they can prevail?

A: They are united around the goal of shrinking the budget. Insisting on spending cuts in return for a debt limit extension is exactly what the GOP wants to make the upcoming fight about. Polling suggests that on those issues, voters seem more inclined to back Republicans. Surveys show most people don't like the idea of extending the government's borrowing limit and back the concept of cutting federal spending, at least until specific programs are targeted.

In addition, after the 2011 debt limit fight, Standard & Poor's downgraded the nation's credit rating for the first time and indicated it might do the same if lawmakers didn't find additional deficit reduction. Republicans say this puts further pressure on Obama to yield.

Q: What about the fights over preventing budget-wide spending cuts or a government shutdown?

A: Both parties think those two prospects will prompt a search for savings that will eventually be tied to raising the $16.4 trillion ceiling on government debt.

GOP lawmakers are trying to create leverage by saying that unless there's a deficit-reduction deal, they're willing to partly shut down the government and live with the automatic spending cuts — which are divided evenly between defense and domestic programs. They interpret the fiscal cliff deal as setting a final figure for new tax revenues and say the focus should be put back on spending cuts.

Democrats believe a federal shutdown would hurt Republicans politically, as it did in the 1990s when the GOP Congress battled President Bill Clinton. Obama insists that additional spending cuts must be coupled with higher taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans to produce a "balanced" package. Polling showed the public backed him when he sought higher taxes on the wealthy in the fiscal cliff fight.