President Barack Obama's decision to stay home and deal with another domestic political standoff rather than jetting off to Bali to sun and summit with major world leaders may signal serious efforts to end the bitter partisan impasse.
Staying home ramps up the pressure on his Republican adversaries but it also denies Mr. Obama some of the those alluring photo ops on the world stage coping with international crisis from Syria to North Korea, both of which would have figured large in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Ending the hometown standoff will require shifts in posture as all sides – and there are at least three – seek a way to claim victory even as the broad outlines of the outcome seem evident.
At some point, there will be a so-called continuing resolution that funds ongoing government operations. No shutdown, not even a partial one, can continue indefinitely. There also has to be an increase to the current $16-7 trillion debt limit so already authorized bills can be paid. Otherwise the United States would tip into default – uncharted and scary waters that could sink the world's economy.
WHO NEEDS WHAT TO CLAIM VICTORY:
President Obama and the Democrats
Having so far outmaneuvered – at least in the court of public opinion according to polls – their Republican opponents, the president and his party are seeking maximum political advantage. Obamacare, the target of Tea Party fury, is up-and-running and no likely outcome scenario includes anything beyond further tweaking, perhaps by delaying some provisions that small employers find most troublesome. So far, Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate has managed to keep Democrats solidly unified, in sharp contrast to the Republicans. For the president, who has rarely shown any talent in the subtleties of give-and-take on Capitol Hill, the toughest challenge may proffering real and substantive concessions that will be palatable to his adversaries.
Republican John Boehner and the Republicans
Ohio's John Boehner has the toughest route to any deal. But while Mr. Obama's likes to denigrate the Speaker as weak and beholden to the extremist republican right-wing, Mr. Boehner may have played his hand well. His hardliner stance, his willingness to shut down the government and his refusal to abandon Republican orthodoxy against Obamacare may – in the end – allow him to convincingly tell Tea Party members that the fight was waged as long as possible. Any outcome – especially one sweetened by even modest concessions on Obamacare or spending – can be sold as a battle drawn and the catastrophe of running the country over a fiscal cliff avoided. Mr. Boehner's biggest challenge may be one of timing. With Republican moderates increasingly willing to publicly admit the Obamacare fight is lost, there is a real risk of widening the already-deep splits within the party .
Ted Cruz and the Tea Party
The Canadian-born (although he disavows that he is a dual-national) freshman senator from Texas and the Tea Party's new darling may have made himself deeply unpopular in the Republican mainstream. Republican moderates are already blaming him for backing the party into an unwinnable corner. But for Sen. Cruz and the Tea Party faithful, losing this battle on Obamacare may serve the longer-term crusade of redefining the Republican Party and the country. Sen. Cruz could emerge as the unchallenged new standard-bearer of the party's right-wing. A loss on Obamacare could re-energize the Tea Party faithful – especially if Mr. Boehner is believed to have blinked in his stare down with the president. That could endanger moderates as they battle Tea Party choices for party nominations. If Sen. Cruz really has designs on the Oval Office in 2016, a heroic defeat now may serve him well.