House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is an old-fashioned deal-maker. He is surrounded by younger, ambitious, more ideological politicians who would like his job. Majority Leader Eric Cantor would like to be Speaker Cantor. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would like to be Speaker Ryan. And below them are scores of GOP Congressmen (and women) who think that the Republican Party needs to be a lot more aggressive in its dealings with the Democratic Senate leadership and the Obama White House.
The budget deal that Speaker Boehner cut with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama promised $38 billion in deficit reduction. According to a CBO analysis of the deal, however, outlays for FY 2011 are actually higher — not lower — by about $3.3 billion. This rather astonishing fact has a large number of Republican House members thinking that they’ve been had.
Congressional Budget Office data, posted Wednesday morning, credit the Boehner-Obama deal with capping appropriations at a level nearly $38 billion lower than when Republicans took charge of the House in January. But this will have only a minimal impact on outlays or direct spending before the 2011 fiscal year ends Sept. 30. And once contingency funds related to Afghanistan and Pakistan are counted, the news gets worse: The CBO now says that total appropriations outlays for 2011 are higher — not lower — by about $3.3 billion than it had estimated in December.
“I’ll get there,” the speaker told POLITICO. And given the level of Democratic support, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) felt bold enough to predict: “I don’t see any chance that this fails unless the bottom falls out with the House Republicans.”
So the question is: will the bottom fall out with House Republicans?
Speaker Boehner is doing everything he can to make sure it does not. Early yesterday, for instance, he said that Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal for reducing the deficit was “an option worth considering.” That’s Washington-speak for “I can’t think of anything I’d rather not do.”
A few hours later, he had this to say about the Ryan proposal: “In order to move forward I think Paul Ryan has set the bar in terms of the kinds of targets we need to meet and the kind of serious effort that is required given the deficit we have. I fully support Paul Ryan’s budget, including on Medicare.” That’s Washington-speak for “I surrender.”
The tactical brilliance of President Obama’s speech yesterday was that it threw a live grenade into the middle of Speaker Boehner’s “relationship” with the House Republican caucus. Mr. Boehner has been around long enough to know that “transforming” Medicare is fraught with political danger. Many of the old-school GOP types want no part of running for re-election on a platform of “transforming” Medicare. They’d rather shoot themselves first.
By taking direct aim at Rep. Ryan’s proposal to “transform” Medicare, President Obama drove a wedge right through the old-school Republican/Tea Party Republican coalition in the House. Thus making it that much harder for Speaker Boehner to hold that coalition together.
Whether he can hold it together is an open question. He will probably get by the FY 2011 budget vote today. But he will need Democratic votes to get it done. The more Democratic votes he needs, the more tenuous his grip. The more tenuous his grip, the more likely an outright rebellion among the ranks breaks out.
Uneasy lies the throne.