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.
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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.
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