Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Republicans got what they wanted

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
October 18, 2013 -- Updated 1041 GMT (1841 HKT)
Tourists flock to memorials in Washington on Saturday, October 19, the first weekend after the end of the partial government shutdown. The Washington Monument and other landmarks across the country have reopened to the public after the 16-day shutdown. The government impasse ended when President Barack Obama signed a spending and debt ceiling agreement that Congress passed, averting a possible default. Tourists flock to memorials in Washington on Saturday, October 19, the first weekend after the end of the partial government shutdown. The Washington Monument and other landmarks across the country have reopened to the public after the 16-day shutdown. The government impasse ended when President Barack Obama signed a spending and debt ceiling agreement that Congress passed, averting a possible default.
HIDE CAPTION
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
Government back in business
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A deal will reopen government and avert a default on U.S. debt
  • Julian Zelizer: Some have argued the deal is a total Democratic win
  • He says the reality is GOP can continue to make budget cutting dominant issue in Washington
  • Zelizer: GOP can use same tactics in 2014 to force Obama to focus on their concerns

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America."

(CNN) -- With no time left on the clock, members of Congress finally reached a deal that would reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling.

As the world watched Congress stumble and tumble toward the brink of default, Senate Democrats and Republicans finally agreed on a deal that gained enough support in the House to bring this episode to a close.

Some Democrats and pundits have concluded that Democrats are walking away the victors. They correctly argue that the Republican Party has become so damaged in the polls as a result of their hardball tactics that they are extremely vulnerable in the 2014 midterms and could very well suffer in the presidential election of 2016 as a result of these debates.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

President Barack Obama also walks away from this deal with the Affordable Care Act generally intact, as conservative proposals to repeal the program recede further and further away from political reality. In 2011, when threatened with the debt ceiling, Obama conceded to Republican demands by agreeing to the 2011 Budget Control Act. This time he refused to negotiate.

But can Democrats really claim victory? Not really.

As the dust settles, Republicans might find themselves pretty content with the outcome of this battle. In terms of public policy, they have kept the President on the defensive and kept their main issue front and center.

Throughout much of the past month and a half, when the President hoped to return from the congressional recess to push the immigration bill through the House, all attention has centered on sequestration, repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting spending and avoiding fiscal catastrophe.

All of the other energy has been sucked out of Washington. Even with the current deal, the sequestration remains in effect, severely harming government agencies that have undergone cuts as well as those in desperate need of funding increases.

Has John Boehner been checkmated?
Sen. Ted Cruz: Deal provides no relief
How to avoid another government crisis
Is the Republican brand damaged?

Congress and the administration will now embark on more extensive discussions about budget reform that will consume the attention of both parties until the middle of January. For now, sequestration remains in place, leaving many agencies with insufficient funds.

The battle has also been beneficial to Republicans in that they have continued the process of normalizing the use of radical tactics in pushing for cuts to the federal government.

Just as many Americans seemed to accept sequestration, conservative Republicans have not yet felt any serious political threat as a result of their having forced a government shutdown.

Nor is it clear that there will be any negative consequences to them for having gone to the brink of a federal default in their fight for concessions on the budget deal. If they are left standing, there is little reason to think that they won't use these tactics once again. The last month offers them a template.

Furthermore, the current deal simply postpones any decision and actually sets up another round of fights when Congress returns from its winter break in December. The new year will look very much like the one that came before.

Given the pattern we have seen, conservative Republicans will be just as likely, even more likely, to employ the same kind of aggressive tactics and try to force the administration into accepting deep cuts in domestic spending if Obama wants to keep the economy in stable condition.

9 things we missed during the shutdown

Conservatives will be even more emboldened as they seek to please their constituents going into the 2014 midterm elections. The deal that emerged from the Senate is simply a continuation of the kind of political chaos that we have witnessed since the 2010 midterms. Obama will have to start fighting on this issue as soon as the ink is dry.

Obama has spent much of his second term on defense, responding to pressure from House Republicans to cut spending and trying to combat their use of radical procedural weapons.

This crisis was clearly the most dangerous moment for the country. And it is true that Obama and congressional Democrats walk away having achieved important objectives. After all, the government is up and running again, at least for the time being, and Congress has raised the debt ceiling, thereby averting a global meltdown.

But Republicans have defined the national agenda and forced a deal that doesn't resolve debate. Just the opposite: It ensures that the fights will continue and the threat of default continues into the foreseeable future.

Until Democrats find a way to reach some kind of long-term budget accord by building sufficient pressure -- and electoral support -- to push back against the Republican Right, they'll find themselves on the losing side of this issue over and over again.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT