It should come as no great surprise that the largest one-year spending cut in American history came down to the wire. Leaders on both sides were under enormous pressure to hold out for everything they could.
The overriding question for months had been whether Speaker John Boehner could thread the needle between tea party demands that he defund health care and slash spending to the bone and the reality of having to win approval of a Democratic White House and Senate.
By waiting until the last minute to assent, the Ohio Republican squeezed the Democrats for every last penny and conceivable concession, while a host of Republicans took to the Senate floor and the airwaves in the final hours to give him cover to cut the final deal.
Boehner succeeded in getting President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to accept $38 billion in spending cuts — several billion more than Boehner’s leadership team initially proposed. And he did it without shutting down the government, a move that polls showed was politically radioactive with the majority of the public and that Boehner himself had warned would hurt Republicans.
The deal was sealed in a dramatic 10:30 p.m. handshake between three top staffers who had negotiated around the clock in a fourth-floor Capitol office.
David Krone, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), White House liaison Rob Nabors and Barry Jackson, Boehner’s chief of staff, reached agreement just as Obama and Reid were anxiously calling for an update, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide.
They were racing against the clock. The federal government would start shutting down at 11 p.m. unless at least one chamber had passed a bill.
They didn’t even have time to work out the fine print. Appropriations staffers would spend the weekend writing a bill and working out the last details after the House and Senate sped a short-term funding extension to the president’s desk.
The framework for the deal had largely been reached a few hours before the handshake, after a daylong flurry of offers, counter-offers and phone calls between Boehner and Obama, and nearly nonstop press conferences by Senate Democrats accusing Boehner of threatening to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood.
Boehner in the end signaled he could give up the language barring federal funding of Planned Parenthood in return for a separate vote on the Senate floor, and Democrats agreed to an extra $500 million in spending cuts from an unspent transportation account as well as several other spending changes.
After the handshake, Boehner, who was speaking to his Conference members in the basement, told them a deal had been struck, which was met with cheers.
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