Were you holding your breath into the wee hours Friday?
Did you reach the point where you were thinking, “Oh, cave and declare victory,” so that the Democrats would not be able to demagogue a shutdown?
In his first real test as a leader, Speaker John Boehner did much better than that. Even the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty was impressed:
House Speaker John Boehner likes to lament that his party controls just “one-half of one-third of the government.”
But whether by design or necessity, Boehner managed to make the most of that limited leverage – both in forcing President Obama and the Democrats to come more than halfway on his party’s demand for spending cuts, and in making the absolutists in his own ranks accept the principle that compromise is part of governing.
The deal cuts $37.8 billion in government spending through September 30-though less than the original Republican target, this is significantly more than Democrats wanted to cut. The budget submitted by the President increased spending by $40 billion. It was an important night:
The cuts, if enacted, would add up to the largest budget reduction for federal agencies in U.S. history. Some conservative Republicans had pushed for much more and grumbled about the compromise Friday.
But this was still a compromise made on their terms – and a sign of their power. Inside a few months, an ascendant Republican Party has managed to impose its small-government agenda on a town still largely controlled by Democrats.
The deal doesn’t eliminate money for Obamacare through the end of the fiscal year, but it does require a Senate vote on whether to fund it, and that means individual senators will have to go on record on the Democrats’ enormously unpopular health agenda. Frankly, I thought this was a stroke of genius.
But what struck me Friday night was the different ways the three men most visibly involved behaved after the deal was struck. In late night remarks from the White House, the President felt compelled to give us sleepy heads a civics class lecture. Even using the gleaming Washington Monument, visible through the window, as a prop, the president delivered a dud. One of the supposedly moving outcomes of keeping the government open he cited is that 58 students on a school tour of Washington next week won’t be disappointed. A passionate believer in government should have come up with something better.
Senator Harry Reid nearly broke his arm patting himself on the back, but for once he was gracious to his counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and that was welcome. Reid probably realizes that the public is souring on late-night venom from Capitol Hill. Boehner was solemn, brief, and functional. He simply said it was “the best deal I could get” and left the spotlight. What a nice change from the histrionics of Nancy Pelosi.
Andrew Stiles summed up the evening on National Review:
Boehner might need a few Democratic votes to pass the deal – that was always a likely outcome. But the narrative constantly pushed by Democrats and the media – that “extreme” Tea Party members would force him to shut down the government – never materialized. As a result, not only does it look like Boehner got the best deal in terms of spending cuts, but he also comes off as the most reasonable actor in the debate, the one who worked the hardest to reach a compromise.
Republicans should feel plenty confident heading into the upcoming debates over the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget. This deal, thanks to Boehner’s robust leadership, was a good start. But it’s only the beginning.