As Boehner briefed his House GOP colleagues on the outline of the deal, he described the final product as “the best deal we could get out of them," according to a GOP lawmaker in the meeting who requested anonymity. Earlier, a top Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel, described Boehner as a “happy warrior” – this after a rousing House GOP Conference before the final handshakes in which rank-and-file members told him to end the impasse and they would back his judgment on the politics and policy.
Some House Republicans will grouse about caving and abandoning core principles and will defy Boehner and vote against his deal. House GOP sources fear as many as 40 defections, but will work strenuously to keep the number below 30. But some Democratic votes will be required to get Boehner’s biggest legislative achievement as speaker across the finish line -- a bittersweet reality that speaks to the Ohio Republican’s core pragmatism. Boehner will find 218 votes where he can get them, preferring to collect them from his party but willing to take them from Democrats in pursuit of what he perceives is the greater good.
And as the specter of a shutdown loomed large, Boehner knew his Conference didn’t have the stomach for the fight any longer. But he waited for the rank and file to express this underlying sentiment of fatigue. It was personified by Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, president of the 87-member freshmen class, who late Friday afternoon offered Boehner sight-unseen support.
“I trust you and I’ll support you on whatever deal you bring us,” Scott told Boehner in the earlier GOP closed-door meeting.
The Senate passed a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government operating until next Friday with spending cuts of $2 billion. This measure will keep all government functions operating while legislation is drafted wrapping up all spending matters for the 2011 fiscal year. The stop-gap will be the seventh of its kind since the Democratically controlled 111th Congress failed to approve the necessary 2011 spending bills before the 2010 elections. Senate Republicans filibustered an omnibus spending bill during the lame-duck session, forcing Democrats and the White House to reconcile themselves to tighter discretionary spending budgets in the aftermath of the GOP-engineered mid-term “shellacking.”
That so much of the vast array of government services -- from national parks to boots on the ground, from scientific research to tax refund processing, from federal contractors to hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal employees -- appeared absurd to most Americans. Polls consistently showed all sides would suffer in the government shutdown. The clash of political forces -- a Democratic president girding for re-election, an aggressive House GOP majority attempting to prove its negotiating clout, and a Senate Democratic Caucus nervously eyeing 2012 with 23 members up for re-election – was unlike anything the country had ever seen.
In the end, House Republicans won more spending cuts than Senate Democrats were initially prepared to surrender. Obama remained cagey throughout, never ruling any particular number out of bounds and keeping his own programmatic priorities a secret until hard-edged negotiations took all sides to the brink of a shutdown.
Just hours before the deal was sealed, Boehner complained to a fellow Republican that Obama was “nickel and diming us to death.” It may have been the highest compliment Boehner’s ever paid to Obama – viewed in the context that in the metaphorical trenches of staff negotiations, Obama was driving an exasperating bargain. Negotiators tell National Journal it was Office and Management and Budget Director Jack Lew who fought over each line in the reshaped and pared-back budget and that Senate Democrats largely acquiesced to White House priorities.
Susan Davis, Humberto Sanchez, Billy House and Dan Friedman contributed