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How Boehner Got A Fractured GOP To Back His Plan

House Speaker John Boehner arrives for a House GOP caucus meeting on Wednesday.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
House Speaker John Boehner arrives for a House GOP caucus meeting on Wednesday.

What a difference a day makes.

Less than 24 hours ago, Republican House Speaker John Boehner was forced to postpone a vote on his debt ceiling plan after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that it cut spending by about $350 billion less than promised.

The Tea Party wing of the leader's ornery caucus was continuing to slam his proposal as not going far enough or fast enough in cutting spending as a prerequisite to raising the nation's debt ceiling by Aug. 2.


And the influential free-marketers at Club for Growth, also opposed to Boehner's effort, warned Republicans that their votes would be factored into the club's annual congressional scorecards.

But Boehner's CBO embarrassment, which forced him to delay a vote on his plan until Thursday, appears to have turned into a boon for the beleaguered speaker.

By midafternoon Wednesday, word filtered through the Capitol that Boehner and his team believed they had the 217 votes to pass his plan in the GOP-controlled House.

Even conservative groups opposed to the speaker's proposal (too few cuts made too late in his 10-year-plan, and no balanced budget amendment) were acknowledging privately that it likely would pass the House.

'Get Your A** In Line'


What happened?

The CBO analysis, though an immediate public relations blow, bought Boehner valuable time to strong-arm recalcitrant members into "yes" votes with a series of face-to-face meetings. Vote counts as recently as midday Tuesday had showed him still about 50 yeas short.

It also gave the more extreme members of his caucus time to launch a "kill Boehner's plan" email campaign, which thoroughly infuriated many of their GOP colleagues.

You go with the president, you go with Harry Reid or you go with John Boehner. If we vote it down, then we have nothing left on our side. We would weaken ourselves as a party really, for the next year and a half.

The effort by the conservative Republican Study Committee caucus resulted in an ugly behind-closed-doors confrontation Wednesday during a meeting of the GOP House members. Politico reported that members directed a chant of "fire him, fire him" at the RSC staffer who sent the emails to conservative groups.

As for Boehner?

He had an opportunity to exhort his members, at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning, to "get your a — -- in line" to pass his plan. On Tuesday, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took a similar tack after a meeting with fellow Republicans.

"We cannot get a perfect solution, controlling only the House of Representatives," said McConnell, because "perfect is not achievable."

"With all due respect, Congress can't vote on a speech, and a veto threat won't prevent default," McConnell said. "The fact is, Republicans have offered the only proposal at this point that attempts to get at the root of the problem — and which actually has a chance of getting to the president's desk."

As Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told NPR's Andrea Seabrook: "You go with the president, you go with Harry Reid, or you go with John Boehner. If we vote it down, then we have nothing left on our side. We would weaken ourselves as a party, really, for the next year and a half."

There are still those holding the line, as several dozen Tea Party demonstrators outside the Capitol on Wednesday urged them to do.

The pressure from leaders to hang together and vote for Boehner's plan has been intense, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) told NPR.

"Strong, strong pressure, absolutely," Gingrey said, "and very, very persuasive. I try to listen and listen very carefully. I'll continue to do that. But, you know, right now I'm still a 'no.' "

A Less-Than-Perfect Deal

Boehner's plan, if it does indeed pass the House on Thursday, still has to make its way through the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a competing proposal.

Reid is not believed to have locked down his votes in the Senate. Democratic senators who are vulnerable in 2012 are being watched closely — including Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Florida's Bill Nelson.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Reid's plan would reduce budget deficits about $2.2 trillion over 10 years, less than the $2.7 trillion he had estimated. Boehner's plan, the CBO estimated, would reduce budget deficits about $850 billion over the same time. (Boehner's final proposal is expected to include added spending cutbacks to address the shortfall.)

An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that there is "much overlap" in the two plans. Both call for about $1.2 trillion in discretionary cuts upfront, with trillions more coming in the future, and as recommended by special congressional committees.

The analysis also found that Reid's plan sets a goal of reducing the nation's deficit to 3 percent of its gross domestic product, though doesn't specify when. And the Boehner plan calls for $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction, largely through cuts to entitlement programs.

With headlines tracking falling stock prices and credit-rating downgrades, the reality of the need for a less-than-perfect deal has become clear even in the Oval Office.

The president on Tuesday issued a statement that it "strongly opposes" the House plan. If it is presented to the president, the statement said, "the President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill."

Not that the president would veto it — just that his advisers would recommend it, leaving an opening that just might allow Boehner's plan to be the last one standing.

As one source in a conservative group opposed to the Boehner plan put it: "I would be shocked if the Boehner bill passes the House and Senate, and the president vetoes it. What's his argument?"

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