The last-minute deal that raised the U.S. debt ceiling, avoided a government default and sent thousands of federal employees back to work may only offer a brief respite, as political observers warn of a repeat of the political clashes over the same issues in the coming months.
"I've come to believe that the principal athletic sport in Washington, D.C., is kicking the can down the road," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University who specializes in U.S. politics.
"It may not build up your muscles, but it keeps you active."
The deal reached on Wednesday has provided some breathing room for the next potential clash. The agreement reopens and funds the government up until Jan. 15. It also permits the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7.
Treasury officials will also be able to use the “extraordinary measures” accounting procedures as they have done in the past, which could push past that debt ceiling deadline by several weeks.
But the fear of some, including Baker, is that with congressional elections to be held in November 2014, the debt ceiling issue could once again be used as a bargaining chip by Republicans.
"A lot of this depends on how they’re looking at congressional elections," Baker said. "If people who counselled moderation find themselves being challenged in primary elections by people far more conservative than they, they may well, out of fear of being defeated, continue to join this quixotic quest to defund Obamacare or to use the debt limit as an opportunity to extort some kind of changes from the Obama administration."
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But Thomas Patterson, a Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press for the John F. Kennedy School of Government, said he thinks the corporate wing of the Republican party that funds the candidates will lean heavily on Republican members of Congress not to mess with the debt ceiling.
"There’s an important chunk of the Republican party that basically is [against] using that as leverage to get concessions," Patterson said.
But coming to a compromise over funding the government could prove much more difficult, he said. That issue now swings over to the 29-member budget conference committee, headed up by Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Democratic Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray.
As part of Wednesday’s agreement, the committee has until Dec. 13 deadline to make recommendations to come up with government savings, although the deadline is not legally binding.
Vastly different budgets
Both Ryan and Murray came to the table with their own vastly different budgets. Ryan’s House budget proposed deep spending and tax cuts while Murray’s Senate budget proposed much smaller spending cuts and eliminating tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
"Chairman Ryan knows that I'm not going to vote for his budget; I know he's not going to vote for mine," Murray said on Thursday, following a breakfast between the two. "We're going to try to find the common ground between our two budgets that we can vote on, and that's our goal."
The problem, Baker noted, is that the two parties have profound philosophical differences on entitlements and tax cuts.
Democrats look upon Social Security, Medicare and now Obamacare as “family jewels” that are historically connected to the New Deal and other great moments in Democratic party history, Baker said.
Meanwhile, Republicans see themselves as the guardians of the wallets of Americans and don’t want to have any tax increases, he said.
"I am very pessimistic about the chances of this so-called conference committee on the budget to come up with anything. I think the differences are just too profound," Baker said.
In August 2011, a similar super committee of Republicans and Democrats was convened to come up with adjustments to entitlement programs. The incentive to reach a deal was the so-called sequester — a provision that would cut all discretionary programs in the federal government, including those cherished by both parties.
But even that threat wasn’t enough to formulate a deal, and the cuts went through.
"At the end of the day, they threw up their arms. They couldn’t bridge any of the differences," Patterson said.
"The question is whether they learned very much from that, and this time get someone from either side to kind of bend a little bit so they can come out of it saying, 'At least we have a majority behind a particular proposal.'"
But Baker warned that if the people who were behind the lengthy shutdown are not chastened by what happened, the U.S is in for "another siege."
"One hundred and forty four Republicans voted against opening the federal government, and they're going to be around. They're not going anywhere."