How the Fiscal-Cliff Deal Will Define Obama's Second Term

Feehery believes any future deals are likely to be worked out between the White House and Senate Republicans, with the unruly, divided House on the sidelines. There's another big looming question: Will Boehner be willing to pass more bills with principally Democratic votes, the way the fiscal-cliff deal was approved? That could mean more compromise legislation gets through -- but it would also likely undermine Boehner's already-weak hold on his caucus.

* A more aggressive Obama. The 2011 debt-ceiling talks exasperated Democrats, who felt Obama proved a weak negotiator. (Jesse Jackson, for example, told me at the time: "[Republicans] feel they can keep pushing and he'll keep giving. They have not seen a stiffness.") Some on the left now feel the administration caved in the fiscal-cliff talks, too, believing the president got too little in return for the greatest point of leverage he's likely to get in the foreseeable future, and on a potential Susan Rice nomination. But most were still cheered that Obama stood firm on most of his priorities and forced Republicans to allow tax rates on the rich to rise. With his nomination of Hagel and insistence that he will refuse to negotiate over the debt limit, Obama has signaled a more aggressive posture toward Congress as he begins his second term. "The president and his team learned the hard way during the debt-limit debacle that you can't negotiate with the hostage takers that are the Republican leaders in the House and Senate," said Jim Manley, a former top staffer to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "I understand he is taking a pounding right now in certain corners, but I believe that this bodes well for his second term."

* A more accommodating GOP? There's a question mark here because, just as House Republicans' cooperation was the biggest wild card in the fiscal-cliff debate, the GOP's stance toward the upcoming deadlines is also the biggest unknown. Republicans I've talked to about it frankly have no idea how their party's leaders will handle the coming fights.

On the one hand, a senior Republican senator, Texas's John Cornyn, has publicly endorsed refusing to raise the debt ceiling and forcing a government shutdown. And the near-breakdown of the fiscal-cliff deal in the House wasn't a good sign for Boenher's ability to marshal support for future deals. On the other hand, the fiscal-cliff deal did get done in the end. And other senior Republicans haven't taken Cornyn's line -- McConnell, notably, refused to embrace a shutdown in multiple interviews on the Sunday political talk shows last weekend. As with the fiscal cliff, Republicans appear to have internalized the no-win political realities of the situation: Polls show they'd likely be blamed for a lack of agreement, even as Obama gets the credit once an agreement is reached.

"I took a little heart that the base of the Republican Party is not willing to say they will default," said Tanden, pointing to comments made dismissing that option by the Wall Street Journal editorial writer Stephen Moore. "My sense of how it's perceived is that, in the post-election period, it's hard for Republicans to manifest what they're for in a way that the mainstream of Washington and the broad public can deal with."

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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