If you think the past three weeks of crisis over the government shutdown and now the looming debt ceiling have seemed like a soap opera, you're not alone. The drama in Washington has, at times, centered on a few key relationships, some of them matches made in political heaven, others marriages of convenience and some simply dysfunctional. Here are the most important power couples in Washington, and how their relationships could make or break compromise in Washington.
In some ways, they are the power couple who started it all, and yet these two couldn't be more different. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is the loquacious first-term senator with presidential ambitions whose political rise would be virtually impossible if not for the support of the Republican Party's tea party base. Most people have never heard of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, but he wrote a letter to Senate Republican leaders months ago demanding that they use the upcoming negotiations over government funding to pressure Democrats into defunding president Obama's health care law.
And while Lee's letter ignited the controversy over the government shutdown, Cruz has taken just about all the credit for it. That hasn't torn the two apart, however. Quite the contrary: "Ted Cruz and I have been roundly criticized for our actions in an attempt to defund Obamacare," Lee said Friday at the conservative Christian Values Voter Summit. "We make no apologies." With Lee's help, Cruz has a much needed partner in his crusade in the Senate. Lee has the added advantage of being a partner who isn't seeking to steal his spotlight.
It's no secret that the two most powerful men in Washington don't have the warmest relationship in the world. They don't talk often, they hardly see each other in person. And there's plenty of public acrimony and flame throwing between the two. But at the end of the day, if any deal is to be had, it has to meet with the support of both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. President Obama has made it clear that if any lesson is to be learned from the 2011 debt-limit negotiations with Boehner, it is that he should simply not negotiate at all. Obama warned that setting a precedent of negotiating on the debt limit could change the "constitutional structure of this government." Another lesson Obama must have learned from 2011: even a round of golf won't save them this time around.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid feels sorry for John Boehner, that much he has made abundantly clear. The feeling is probably mutual. Their bickering is more than just about a personal distaste that the two men may have for each other.
It highlights the differences in how two leaders of their respective parties govern in the upper and lower chambers. While Reid has been largely successful in getting his 54-person caucus to stick together through the shutdown and debt-ceiling debacle, John Boehner has the much more difficult task of leading a disparate group of 232 Republicans, most of whom have to worry about getting re-elected in just a few short months. In the days leading up to the shutdown of the government, Reid and Boehner each sent legislation to the other chamber that they knew would go nowhere. As negotiations continue over a resolution to the shutdown and the debt ceiling, it will be another test of their ability to corral their members to support a real deal.