Washington State Magazine :: Summer 2012

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Alaska: A History New Media. And yet, even then, as powerful contingents in both parties rose up to oppose a deal that was already tenuous, negotiations were proceeding amiably and apace. At the White House that Thursday morning, July 21, Jackson, Loper, Nabors, Sperling and Lew, among other aides, agreed to set aside the revenue question and focus on hammering out some of the smaller discrepancies in the two offers. By now, a level of trust had grown among them; the mere fact that they had exchanged so much paper, and that none of it had been leaked to reporters or bloggers, seemed to cement their working relationship.

In fact, Obama felt confident enough to tell Reid and Pelosi, during a meeting in the Oval Office that Thursday evening, that a grand bargain was imminent. Obama told Reid and Pelosi that he understood that this would seem like a choice between a bad deal and a worse deal, but he wanted a commitment from them that they would get behind the agreement. Cantor and the Counteroffer. Like much of Washington, White House aides were perplexed by the relationship between Boehner and the man who was 14 years younger and next in line for his job, Eric Cantor.

He insisted that the caucus would not accept the kind of sweeping deal that both leaders wanted. When Daley and Geithner were first invited by Boehner to his Capitol office to restart the negotiations in mid-July, they were surprised to find Cantor there too.

It was one of the main reasons that the White House dared to hope a deal might work. Boehner had invited him to the meeting, just as he had invited Daley and Geithner, and there was little the majority leader could do in that situation other than accept.


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Boehner had traveled an idiosyncratic path to the speakership, having never served as a House whip, the pivotal job of corralling and counting votes. Boehner seemed to believe that his prestige as speaker would carry the day on key votes, but already that assumption had gotten him into trouble a few times, and other members of his leadership team had little faith in his predictions. Before the Gang of Six fiasco, Boehner estimated that he could round up something like votes out of Republican members for the grand bargain.

Cantor and many other senior Republicans thought the number could be less than half of that. The White House position was leaving Boehner little room to maneuver within his own caucus, and yet he was loath to see the deal unravel after getting so close, and with so little time left before the debt-limit standoff became a full-blown national crisis.

And so Boehner had no choice but to walk away from the negotiations. He and Cantor, of like mind, reached this conclusion together. And at some point that Thursday, Boehner and his most senior aides at least entertained what would have been an astounding counteroffer to the president. As part of a broader proposal, which has remained until now a closely held secret, Boehner was apparently open to meeting the president at the new, higher revenue target — a concession that most likely would have meant abandoning the idea that no taxes would have to be raised.

What happened, instead, based on extensive reporting, was this: Boehner raised the possibility of his counteroffer with Cantor on that Thursday afternoon, and Cantor dismissed the suggestion out of hand. No longer was Cantor content to be the skeptic in the room. He was now certain that the grand bargain was a practical impossibility. Boehner talked to Obama a short while later. Boehner heard him out, but by then he must have known, from his discussions with Cantor and others, that neither option was going anywhere in his own caucus. It was one thing to risk your speakership on a grand bargain, which Boehner had without question been willing and even eager to do.

It was another thing to throw that speakership away with little chance of success, which is what Obama was now asking of him. The final act of the saga played out like the awkward undoing of a brief teenage romance, minus the texting and Facebook un-friending. At about 10 p. As the hours passed, the mood in the West Wing turned from puzzlement to concern to anger.

By the middle of the afternoon, rumors began to reach the White House from the Hill. Boehner had scheduled a briefing for reporters.

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He was telling people the deal was dead, and he was meeting with Reid and Mitch McConnell , the Republican leader in the Senate, to see if there was some other way to raise the debt limit. When Boehner finally called back late that Friday afternoon, it was a perfunctory call between wounded suitors. Both were essentially true, and yet incomplete. It was safer for Boehner to walk away and accuse Obama of having sabotaged the deal than to risk that Obama would retreat to the earlier terms on which they had agreed, forcing the speaker to backtrack himself.

The following day, Congressional leaders informed Obama that they were ready to offer a deal on their own. Ultimately, the debt ceiling vote was pushed back to , but the rest of the bill passed. Obama hated it and made his anger known to the lawmakers who laid it out for him in the Oval Office. Boehner told him it was time to move on. Boehner Betrayed? He was seated in a leather chair by a marble fireplace, his cigarette smoldering in an ashtray at his side.

Three aides sat nearby. But when I asked Boehner on the first day of March whether he had floated his counteroffer past Republican leaders other than Cantor, his reply was more ambiguous. Did we think we were out on a limb? Did we think the president, if we came to an agreement, was going to be out on a limb? But the reason I feel that way is because I had a pretty good feel for what I thought the reaction was. Obama and Boehner have spoken only a handful of times. Daley resigned in January and was replaced by Jack Lew — the guy whom Boehner and his aides tried to sideline.

He added that any comprehensive deal might be even harder to sell to his members this time around. The ugly, months-long process of trying to avoid a meltdown over the debt ceiling may have further embittered a lot of ordinary Americans, but it also forced policy makers on both sides to wrestle with their own capacity for compromise. That dynamic could change after November. And however counterintuitive this may seem, it may be more apt to change if the cast of characters remains the same. Assume for the moment that Mitt Romney is elected president and is forced to confront, even before staffing his administration or taking the oath of office, an imminent budget crisis.

Does anyone really think he could risk infuriating that base, in his first move as president-elect, by hammering out a compromise that increases tax revenue and cuts Medicare? Should Obama win re-election, on the other hand, he would face the impending crisis knowing that he had just run the final campaign of his life and that he had 18 months, at best, to solidify his legacy. Boehner might well find himself, two years removed from the Tea Party elections of , with fewer extremists in his own caucus.

And for all their residual bitterness and mistrust, they would both know that they still had a draft agreement that left them about 80 percent of the way there. Near the end of our interview, I asked Boehner what he thought would happen when the two sides clashed again in several months. He took a drag on his cigarette.

Washington State Magazine :: Summer 2012

Then he surprised me by rising quickly to his feet and clapping his hands. He was through talking, at least for now. An article on April 1 about the debt-deal negotiations last summer misstated the effect on revenue if some tax cuts enacted under George W. Tim Steury. Washington State Magazine covers news and issues of interest to Washington State University faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and the people of Washington from Seattle to St. We dive into his story, and the waters of Hawaii, as he checks in on the aquarium fishery.

The author and readers go on a hunt through history to explain how they came to Pullman in the first place, and describe the investigation that led to their welcome return. Ridout and Michael M. Clayton and Nicholas P. Get A Copy. Kindle Edition , pages. Published April 25th by Washington State University. More Details Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Washington State Magazine , please sign up.

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