Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Budget Battle Came Down To 3 Men And Weaknesses

Obama ,Reid, Boehner each scored points.T he story of Capitol Hill's week on the brink-which brought Washington within hours of a government shutdown-is a narrative of 3 men,each with a confining sense of his own limitations.House Speaker John 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 Barack 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 Reid,D-Nev.,had watched his party lose it momentum.Last week, their first big public fight since Republicans took over in November  played out in 3 a.m. meetings,angry press conferences and tense sessions at the White House-which hit their boiling point late Thursday night when Vice President Joe Biden lost his temper at Boehner.It ended with a late-night handshake at the Capitol.The detailed story of that week-relayed Saturday by aides invested in portraying their man as the hero-shows that all three were trying to camouflage weaknesses with bluffing and public confidence.They settled only in face of a shutdown-the one thing they feared more than giving in.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 a rally a beleaguered Democratic base.For Boehner,last week was a chance to prove his toughness,and conservative bona fides,to the fractious Republicans he leads.As the last week began,Boehner was determined not to seem wobbly. In private meetings with Democrats,he repeated a mantra:"Nothing will be agreed to,until everything is agreed to." As the stalemate dragged on into Thursday night,President Obama,summoned both Reid and Boehner to the White House.With almost 24 hours to go until the government shut down,Obama gave Boehner an ultimatum on the speaker's push to include abortion-related restrictions in the bill."John,I will give you D.C. abortion.I m not happy about it,"Obama said,according to a Democrat and Republican in the Oval Office.Boehner had been pushing to include both the restriction of government funding on abortions in the District of Columbia and a provision that would have placed limits on funds going to no profit groups that provide abortions services nationwide,including Planned Parenthood.With the D.C. provision in hand,Boehner continued to push the president,aides said."Nope.zero,"Obama told Boehner."Nope, zero.John, this is it."Nonetheless, they were close to agreeing to a dollar amount,or so the White House thought.By the next morning,though,Whit House aides said Boehner's staff appeared to be asking for more cuts.So Obama called Boehner and tried to appeal to Boehner's sense of responsibility."The president believed Speaker Boehner was always there" in understanding the gravity of the situation,a senior Obama aide explained.Boehner"did not want this to come to a shutdown." In the last days of negotiations,Reid suddenly found an issue-and a voice-as the Planned Parenthood issue emerged as a key sticking point.'If the government shuts down,and it looks like it is headed in the direction,it is going to be based on my friends in the House of Representatives,the leadership over there,focusing on ideological matters that have nothing to do with funding the government ." Immediately,his caucus rallied behind him.Democrats raced to the floor denouncing the Republicans.Reid also began trying to play hardball with Boehner,telling him that they wouldn't compromise on the abortion issue,according to a senior Democratic leadership aide.On Friday,Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell,R-Ky.,called Reid and ask for a favor for Boehner.Reid gave in,in exchange for Boehner's decision to drop the Planned Parenthood demand.Reid and Obama said they would allow for an additional $500 million in spending cuts.After 10 p.m.,with less then two hours remaining,Boehner called his fractious group of Republicans in for a meeting.He told them there was still no final deal.But then he began to outline what a potential deal might be.In fact,aides to Boehner,Obama and Reid were shaking hands in the Speaker's  ornate office two floors up.

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