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The Fiscal Fight's Winners And Losers

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday. The Kentucky Republican helped forge a late-hour deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to sidestep financial chaos.
J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday. The Kentucky Republican helped forge a late-hour deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to sidestep financial chaos.

The White House is insisting, publicly at least, that nobody emerged victorious from the government shutdown/debt crisis debacle.

"There are no winners here," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday after Senate leaders announced they had a deal to end the budget impasse.

"And nobody's who's sent here to Washington by the American people can call themselves a winner," Carney said, "if the American people have paid a price for what's happened."

Well, yes and no.

As the curtain comes down on the latest, but certainly not the last, partisan convulsion, there's no question that the shutdown and debt crisis will affect the political calculus in Washington.

Here's our list of winners and losers. Let us know if you have suggestions of your own.


Kentucky's Senators

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the state's wily senior senator, and his junior GOP colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, both emerged from their party's awful interlude with reputations intact, if not enhanced. McConnell employed his sharp political instincts and once again forged a late-hour deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to sidestep financial chaos. And Paul astutely tended to his 2016 presidential ambitions by largely steering clear of the doomed defund-Obamacare-or-else strategy embraced by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz

The Texas senator held a fake filibuster, persuaded like-minded House members to jump off the shutdown/debt crisis ledge, harvested Tea Party cash and gathered names for fundraising lists. Wednesday's Pew Research Center poll results show his popularity among Tea Party Republicans soaring — and he's solidified his role as the undisputed face of the Obamacare resistance and the voice of a motivated and aggravated slice of the party's base.

GOP Speaker John Boehner

In allowing his more conservative members to drive a losing battle, the Ohio Republican has enhanced his standing with that faction and solidified his hold on the GOP conference. Boehner on Tuesday looked every inch the blundering loser; by Wednesday, his speakership remained secure, and he was basking in the praise of some of the hard-liners who have been making his life so difficult.

GOP Rep. Tom Graves

Graves, a conservative from north Georgia, emerged from national obscurity to win notice as a leader of the defund-Obamacare movement in the House. He leveraged the crisis to go from "Representative Who?" status — he was first elected in a 2010 special election — to a seat at television talk show tables and a reputation as a leading Tea Party voice.

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes

The California Republican won national attention for his now famous characterization of fellow party members willing to shut down government over Obamacare as "lemmings with suicide vests." After that memorable description, Nunes became a go-to Republican for the media because of his willingness to criticize his party's positions while remaining loyal to leadership.


How could we list the Affordable Care Act as a winner, when its rollout has been beset by such enormous problems? It's simple: Think of all the "president's health care launch is an unmitigated fiasco" stories that weren't written, or received minor play, because the program start coincided with the government shutdown. Thus the administration has had cover while it hustles to fix the worst of the problems.

Senate Women

GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona was among those who gave props to his female colleagues for their role in leading a bipartisan group of 14 senators (it included six women) to help provide Reid and McConnell a framework for their deal to end the government shutdown. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine won particular notice. "Leadership, I must fully admit," McCain said, "was provided primarily by women in the Senate."

Wall Street, Eventually

A late Wednesday headline on CNN said it all: "Debt Ceiling Deal Sends Stocks Soaring."

Senate Chaplain Barry Black

In Senate floor prayers during the crisis, the 64-year-old former Navy chaplain drew national attention — and inspired a Saturday Night Live skit — with his ardent pleas for reason and faith. "Save us from the madness," he prayed one day, "and deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable."

Robert Costa

No one covered the crisis with more consistency and insight than The National Review's Washington editor, Robert Costa. He used his must-read Twitter feed to break news, and provided deep, dispassionate insight into Republican strategy for his conservative publication. Costa, 28, was one of five conservative journalists whom Obama invited to the White House for a private briefing.


(In addition to the American people, federal and government contract employees, tourists and those with businesses reliant on visitors to the nation's national parks.)

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz

Yes, the Texas senator was both a winner and a loser. He's been excoriated by members of his own party over his approach, and Wednesday's Pew Research Center poll results show his popularity dropping among those not aligned with the GOP Tea Party wing. While he has established himself as a Tea Party force, Cruz lost the immediate battle and may have fatally damaged his general election brand.

GOP Speaker John Boehner

Bad boy political columnist Roger Simon, in a widely read piece this week, took aim at Cruz and Boehner for allowing — if not orchestrating — the shutdown and leading the nation to the brink of financial calamity. Boehner, he wrote, "does not bend to the will of his Kamikaze Caucus because he is an evil man. He does so because he is a weak man. To borrow a line from Theodore Roosevelt, I could carve a better man out of a banana." In allowing his more conservative members to drive a losing battle, Boehner looked weak, blundering and barely in control of his conference. And in the end, he opened the door to a deal that will very likely require a majority of Democrats to get passed.

House GOP Hard-Liners

It took The Wall Street Journal to lay it out succinctly: "They picked a goal they couldn't achieve in trying to defund Obamacare from one House of Congress," it editorialized Wednesday, "and then they picked a means they couldn't sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit."

The Tea Party Brand

Pew Research Center poll results released Wednesday showed that unfavorable views of the Tea Party have nearly doubled since 2010. Negative opinions have accelerated in recent months, particularly among moderate and liberal Republicans, and now nearly half of the American public has an unfavorable view of the Tea Party.

Immigration Overhaul

Remember that? President Obama says he does, and this he week told Univision's Los Angeles affiliate that he's going to push for House Speaker Boehner to take up the Senate-approved immigration overhaul bill. But here's how one conservative House Republican framed the upcoming debate on Wednesday: "If the president is going to show the same kind of good-faith efforts that he has shown in the last couple of weeks, I think it would be crazy for the House Republican leadership to enter into negotiations with him on immigration," said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. "He has tried to destroy the Republican Party and I think that anything that we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind, which is to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies."

Ken Cuccinelli

Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, was in a pretty close race with Democrat Terry McAuliffe before the Oct. 1 shutdown and impending debt crisis. But polls show that support for the social conservative has eroded in the past two weeks, driven in part by antipathy of many of the huge swath of federal workers living in the purple state Obama won twice.

Vice President Biden

The garrulous vice president was a key player in brokering a bipartisan deal to avoid the nation's last almost-default two years ago. This time, he's been nowhere to be seen — except during a shopping trip Tuesday to the local Brooks Brothers. The White House insists he is in the loop and attended meetings with members of Congress. But it's been reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats weren't so crazy about Biden's last deal and preferred to go it alone.

Michelle Obama's Garden

The nation's most famous vegetable plot has gone to seed, literally, during the shutdown. With no groundskeepers or gardeners working to keep up the garden and White House grounds, vegetables on the 1,500-square-foot plot are rotting, weeds are taking over, and critters are having a ball, reports the blog Obama Foodorama.

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Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.