Yesterday, the Washington Post’s top story offers the most detailed journalistic look yet into the debt-ceiling negotiations that collapsed last summer. Broadly speaking, it appears to lay more blame at the feet of President Obama than Speaker Boehner for the failure to reach a “grand bargain” combining spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and tax increases. From the story’s intro:
What happened? Obama and his advisers have cast the collapse of the talks as a Republican failure. Boehner, unable to deliver, stepped away from the deal, simple as that.
But interviews with most of the central players in those talks — some of whom were granted anonymity to speak about the secret negotiations — as well as a review of meeting notes, e-mails and the negotiating proposals that changed hands, offer a more complicated picture of the collapse. Obama, nervous about how to defend the emerging agreement to his own Democratic base, upped the ante in a way that made it more difficult for Boehner — already facing long odds — to sell it to his party. Eventually, the president tried to put the original framework back in play, but by then it was too late. The moment of making history had passed.
The actions of Obama and his staff during that period in the summer reflect the grand ambitions and the shortcomings of the president’s first term. . . .
In the end, that brief effort, described by White House officials as the most intense and consequential of Obama’s presidency, not only illuminated pitfalls in the road he had taken during the previous three years but also directed him down a different, harder-edged, more overtly partisan path that is now defining his reelection campaign.
Interestingly, in the wake of what seems to be a blow to Obama’s public image, Politico reports that other outlets may soon push back with a more sympathetic portrayal:
The White House declined to talk about the story on the record. But senior advisers have long maintained it was GOP intransigence and Boehner’s inability to round up votes from his members that scuttled the deal.
The efforts by several prominent journalists to revisit last year’s high-stakes talks — the New York Times Magazine’s Matt Bai is working on a similar piece, and Bob Woodward is writing a book on Obama’s handling of the economy — promise sustained attention on a critical moment of Obama’s first term that could factor into his reelection prospects.
The negotiations with House Republicans were Obama’s clearest opportunity to realize his 2008 campaign pledge to usher in a more productive, bipartisan era in Washington. The president has since pivoted to make a more concerted appeal to the Democratic base, blasting those he calls intransigent Republicans at every opportunity.