Although neither party helped its public image with the debt deal, Democrats hurt themselves more than Republicans. First, they made a strategic error by failing to raise the debt ceiling last year when they still controlled both houses of Congress, Karl Rove contends in an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journa
“Instead, Democrats tried to make the GOP complicit in their spending excesses,” the former adviser to President George W. Bush wrote. “On Dec. 8, for example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explained his decision not to tackle the debt ceiling until the new GOP House took office by saying he wanted to ‘let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt.’ This ended up giving the GOP months to leverage the debt ceiling into a battle over spending cuts.
“President Obama paid the highest price during this long confrontation. By the time he signed the debt ceiling, he had enraged his own party, issued demands that were routinely ignored, reinforced his reputation as being obsessed with raising taxes, and failed to produce a concrete plan of his own.”
Rove notes that the president’s job rating in a weekly Gallup poll in December was 47 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval, while it had dipped to 40 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval last week.
The “outcome was far more positive” for Republicans, who were able to shift the debate’s focus away from the ceiling to the amount of cuts and saw the reputation of House and Senate GOP leaders enhanced.
“The main danger for Republicans is that while 76 of the 87 House GOP freshmen voted with Mr. Boehner, a substantial minority of GOP activists did not want the debt-ceiling raised regardless of what the consequences were for the economy. A dispirited base could generate costly primaries and depress turnout.”
The cuts agreed to are “just a down payment,” Rove wrote, adding that the hard work of reforming entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid is yet to come. Such reforms are best done in a bipartisan way but there is “no reason to believe Mr. Obama will expend an ounce of energy on systemic entitlement reforms. It cuts against his ideological grain.”
“And so the GOP must take its case to the people in 2012 in the hope of earning a mandate,” he concluded. “The prospects for this are much better than they were before the debt-ceiling debate — a clash from which Mr. Obama and his party might not fully recover before the election.”
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