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Boehner-Reid Relationship Unravels Over Health Care Benefits Fight

Partisan finger-pointing heats up as chambers’ leaders spar over health care benefits for congressional staffers

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Reid, left, and Boehner have to work together as leaders of their respective chambers, but that will be more difficult after this week’s shutdown drama.

Is Harry Reid done with John A. Boehner?

The Senate majority leader and the speaker have never been especially close, but their normally functional relationship began to unravel this week, after the House GOP decided to try to undermine a secret deal the two leaders’ offices made over the summer to save congressional staffers from losing their health care benefits.

With the government currently shut down and only 17 days until the Treasury runs out of money to pay the nation’s debts, the strained relationship could bode ill for a swift political resolution.

But sources say Reid and his chief of staff, David Krone, were so angry with the Ohio Republican that they decided to breach accepted protocols between the two offices after Boehner’s Monday decision to add a provision to a stopgap spending bill that would eliminate employer health care contributions for members and staff.

Though leaders usually refrain from referring to each other in their partisan rants against the other chamber, Democratic leaders on Monday mentioned Boehner by name 12 times. It was a noticeable shift from previous shutdown debates when Reid and Democratic messaging lieutenant Charles E. Schumer of New York focused much of their political venom on No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor or the tea party wing of the GOP.

“I have a very simple message to John Boehner: Let the House vote. Stop trying to force a government shutdown. Let the House work its will, all 435 members, not just the majority,” Reid declared in one of his multiple speeches Tuesday. “If John Boehner blocks this, he will be forcing a government shutdown, and it will be a Republican government shutdown, that’s pure and simple.”

The Nevada Democrat’s camp decided to leak a private email exchange between Krone and Boehner Chief of Staff Mike Sommers. The disclosure of the emails was designed largely to embarrass Boehner for publicly advocating to get rid of what Republicans have called a “special exemption” in Obamcare for lawmakers and staff. The existence of the emails, and Democrats’ plans to use them against Boehner, was first reported by Roll Call.

The communications, leaked to Politico, reveal that Sommers’ and Krone’s coordinated attempts to convince the Obama administration to preserve health care benefits for the thousands of staffers on Capitol Hill.

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