The story of Capitol Hill’s week on the brink — which brought Washington within an hour of a government shutdown — is a narrative of three men, each with a confining sense of his own limitations.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) entered budget negotiations at the head of a rambunctious Republican majority. Quietly, though, he worried that conservative lawmakers might desert him if the deal he struck didn’t meet their expectations.

President Obama had his own problem: He was trying to change his public image in midstream, from America’s top Democrat to a chief executive immune from partisan squabbling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had watched his party lose its momentum. For all his power, his job had shrunk to defending Democrats’ past gains.
In the end, Boehner got the huge budget cut conservatives wanted. Obama got to take credit for bringing the sides together. And Reid got a chance — in a dispute over funding for women’s health groups — to rally a beleaguered Democratic base.