Evan Vucci, Associated Press
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walk to the Senate floor to vote on a bill to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington.

Republicans fell over themselves in retreat, raising the debt ceiling with barely a whimper and reopening the government. Some critics argue that in pursuing Obamacare through the shutdown, the GOP squandered serious leverage on the budget.

"For the Republicans who despise President Obama’s health care law," wrote Jeremy Peters in the New York Times, "the last few weeks should have been a singular moment to turn its problem-plagued rollout into an argument against it. Instead, in a futile campaign to strip the law of federal money, the party focused harsh scrutiny on its own divisions, hurt its national standing and undermined its ability to win concessions from Democrats. Then they surrendered almost unconditionally."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was defiant, as was his close ally Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who told Real Clear Politics, 
“The media keeps asking was it worth it? My answer is that it’s always worth it to do the right thing,” he said. “Fighting against an abusive government in defense of protecting the individual rights of the American people is always the right thing."

The New York Times editorial board saw no such silver lining. "The health care reform law will not be defunded or delayed," it wrote, "No taxes will be cut, and the deal calls for no new cuts to federal spending or limits to social welfare programs. The only things Republicans achieved were billions of dollars in damage to the economy, harm to the nation’s reputation and a rock-bottom public approval rating."

One dissenting voice on the question of who won was Peter Beinart, writing in the Daily Beast, who argued that reaching back to 2011 Republicans have discovered how to use the debt limit to force budget changes. As recently as a few months ago, Beinart said, Republicans felt that simply locking in the 2011 sequester would be a victory worth noting.

"Indeed, as recently as last month," Beinart writes, "GOP leaders described locking in the sequester cuts — via a 'clean' continuing resolution (CR) that extended them into 2014 — as a major victory. In a memo to fellow Republicans on September 6, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor boasted that by 'signing a CR at sequester levels, the President would be endorsing a level of spending that wipes away all the increases he and Congressional Democrats made while they were in charge and returns us to a pre-2008 level of discretionary spending.’ ”

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Rich Lowry at Politico also credits Cantor with foresight on the matter, but Lowry does not see the outcome as favorable to the GOP. After citing strategic authorities from Napolean to Sun Tzu on prudence in conflict, Lowry said that the GOP defunders took heavy losses in a fight they knew they would lose.

"An initial plan promoted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor simply to force a vote on defunding in the Senate and then move to a clean continuing resolution was blasted by defunders as empty symbolism," Lowry wrote. "After a few weeks of political pain, Republicans ended up in the same place: The House voted on a defunding provision that was quickly pushed aside by the Senate, and it was forced to accept an essentially clean continuing resolution."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com