Obama did protect Social Security, Medicaid, children's health insurance and veterans from any cuts - governed by the new spending caps or the so-called super committee charged with finding at least $1.5 trillion in additional spending cuts. The deal specifically shields Social Security, veterans benefits, unemployment benefits, military pensions, and children's insurance from cuts under the special committee jurisdiction.
Also, Obama won a 50-50 split in all domestic cuts between non-defense spending and allocations for defense, homeland security, and the State Department. This amounts to $350 billion over 10 years and gives Obama an opportunity to press for more economical spending in the security sphere. Republicans say they will fight another day to ensure military readiness, training, and availability of necessary weapons systems.
But the president opened the door to Medicare cuts. Even though they are limited to providers, Obama has put Medicare cost savings on the table at just the moment congressional Democrats cherished a clean shot at Republicans for backing a 10-year plan to transform the health care program for the elderly from fee-for-service to a voucher system to finance insurance purchases on the open market.
On the tax side, Republicans are certain the rules will nullify higher taxes. Democrats are equally convinced the magnitude of future spending cuts through caps or across-the-board sequestration will prove so politically unpopular that Republicans will relent and raise taxes. That's what happened in 1990, when sequestration-ordered cuts led President George H.W. Bush to raise taxes in a budget deal reviled to this day by conservatives.
For Republicans, the victories are embedded in forcing Obama to agree to deficit-reduction with no explicit call for tax increases. They won votes in both chambers on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and built what they regard as acceptable protections of future defense spending. They also eliminated a Democratic bid to count as savings $1 trillion in spending on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that was unlikely ever to be spent. Still, GOP unity was sorely tested and House Speaker John Boehner's leadership clout is less sturdy than it was.
Citing precedent, Obama asked Congress for a debt-ceiling increase with no strings attached. But the grudging deference that previous Congresses granted Obama's predecessors evaporated in a partisan-fueled demand by the new GOP House to turn a once-obligatory debt ceiling increase into a policy cudgel.
The president swiftly retreated, giving Republicans a victory no other Congress enjoyed. Even in 1985 when President Reagan signed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law, he didn't do it under the threat of default. But House Republicans used default and the economic damage it would inflict as a political weapon -- one that forced Obama to link a debt ceiling increase to deficit reduction.