In emerging fiscal deal, Republicans on verge of conceding to Obama

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The Republicans, particularly in the House, pushed for a government shutdown and then threatened not to increase the federal debt ceiling unless the Obama administration agreed to major changes to the president’s health care law.

But under the agreement emerging on Capitol Hill this week, congressional Republicans will fall far short of their aims.  Senate leaders of both parties are considering a deal to end the shutdown and increase the federal debt ceiling that would include only minor tweaks to the health care law, such as requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to make greater efforts to verify the income of people who qualify for subsidies for cheaper health insurance under the law.

Republican provisions to defund the law, delay its implementation for a year, or strip out the “individual mandate,” all moves that would have given conservatives major victories and crippled the “Affordable Care Act,” will not be in the final agreement. The government would be funded until next January and the debt ceiling hiked till next February, putting off another round of these perennial Washington fights until after Christmas.

To be sure, the Senate has not yet approved this agreement, and it then still must pass the strongly anti-Obama House of Representatives. House Speaker John A. Boehner may face a situation in which a majority of the Republicans in the House oppose the bill and he must rely on Democratic votes to pass it.

But the last two weeks have validated the approach of President Obama and Senate Democrats, who had believed a government shutdown would weaken the Republicans and force them to finally accept that the president would not sign legislation that severely weakens a law that has been dubbed “Obamacare.” To be sure, neither side should celebrate the results of the shutdown, which has cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars and left hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

Politically, though, it has left the biggest toll on the Republican Party, with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week showing the GOP at its lowest standing in the history of the poll. Obama, who Republicans expected and Democrats feared would look for the first sign of compromise to end the shutdown, has held firm throughout the process, as he and his aides were determined not to give concessions to Republicans for increasing the debt ceiling, arguing that raising the debt limit is a traditional function of Washington, not a “favor” to the president or Democrats.

The agreement on the table now means the Republicans will have taken a risky political stance, suffered in the polls for it and barely changed the Affordable Care Act at all. It’s a political victory for Obama, but does not truly advance his agenda: the president has spent weeks in a crucial year of his tenure defending a law that passed three years ago and making sure that the U.S. does not go into default and continues to fund its government.  Obama’s plans for comprehensive immigration reform, gun control legislation and universal pre-kindergarten remain stalled. And Republicans don’t seem any more likely to work with him in the future.