As House Speaker John Boehner prepares to leave office, he appears to be making a final bid to burnish his legacy. Turning his back on his House colleagues, he instead aims to put the American people first: by negotiating a long-term budget deal with the president to avert further threats of another costly government shutdown. In a tentative deal with the White House announced last night before the clock struck midnight, Boehner said: “Pass the hard-won agreement with President Barack Obama before Rep. Paul Ryan assumes the speaker’s job later this week.” The deal calls for a 2-year budget pact – which includes raising the debt ceiling – to block any possibility of shutting down the government until after the 2016 presidential election. It also calls for budget relief from the 2013 budget sequestration, the budget austerity agreement that automatically reduced federal spending, which neither side has been happy about.
This new agreement would provide relief of $50 billion in the first year and $30 billion in the second. The measure would prevent half of the increase from being funneled to military spending and half to discretionary spending – and eliminate a huge increase in Medicare premiums. As Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said: “It is past time that we do away with the harmful, draconian sequester cuts…We must also ensure that there are equal defense and nondefense increases.”
If you will recall, negotiations for a budget deal in 2011 between President Barack Obama and Speaker Boehner collapsed. Boehner, of course, blamed the White House for the collapse by claiming it was “moving the goal posts.” But the truth was, that was the beginning of the end for Boehner because of the rise of the crazy, obstructionist Tea Party that came to power with the 2010 midterms. The Tea Party blocked anything that had the president’s name on it, which evidentially led to the October 2013 16-day Republican government shutdown costing taxpayers $24 billion. However, you might think that this was a boon for Republicans going into the election cycle, but Republicans were up in arms even before the deal was announced: “The biggest disappointment, in our minds, about Republicans in the House and Senate this entire year has been their failure on the budget,” said Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips before details of the budget deal began to materialize. “Let’s stick to those caps. You said you would do that. Keep your word. I mean, you told the American people you would do that.”
Those feelings were echoed by other Republicans after the deal was announced last evening:
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC): “Looking at the information that we’ve gathered so far, I’m not necessarily in a position where I think that’s in the best interest of our country going forward…It’s just hard to justify that we’re not figuring out how to clamp down on spending.”
Sharing those feelings Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): “My knees quiver at the sound…What does Boehner got to do with it?” said an exasperated Sessions, the former top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “I’m worried about how fast it’s moving. I see no reason for that. Based on what I know now, it appears the president got whatever he wanted.”
However, not all Republicans were negative, as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters: “that the top-line figures presented to senators at their closed-door briefing fell about $5 billion short in fiscal 2016 of what he had wanted. Still, he said the plan was salable.”
Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Boehner’s heir- apparent, who was not part of the negotiations, seemed to be more upset about the process than of the details: “I think the process stinks,’ Ryan says of the secretive talks that produced the tentative budget and debt ceiling agreement…Under new management (no doubt referring to himself) we are not going to do the people’s business this way…We are up against a deadline — that’s unfortunate. … As a conference we should’ve been meeting months ago to discuss these things to have a unified strategy going forward.”
While Ryan has not indicated how he will vote on the deal itself, as Politco suggests: “Despite those critical remarks, Boehner is handing his likely successor an invaluable gift that could help smooth his transition to power. No legislative cliffs. No fiscal emergencies that rattle Wall Street. No government shutdown threats or default countdown clocks.” While some Republicans will always be obstructionist, what is sure is that with the help of Democrats in the House and Senate, President Obama will get his along-awaited budget deal, and Speaker Boehner may have done some good for his legacy by allowing Ryan and his fellow crazies to blame him, Boehner, for adverting another government shutdown by putting the American people first.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.