As lawmakers gear up for the next debt ceiling fight, an interview with House Speaker John Bohener reveals his side of the story in the ugly fiscal cliff standoff between top congressional leaders and the White House.
“I need this job like I need a hole in the head.” Those are bleak words of newly reelected House Speaker John Boehner, published in Monday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal.
WSJ reporter Stephen Moore sat down for a long interview with the embattled Republican leader just three days after the historic vote to raise taxes on top income earners. A chain-smoking Boehner dished about his recent standoff with the White House over the fiscal cliff.
“Boehner is much better at his job than most people realize,” tweeted MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. Last week, the Republican leader clung to his speakership role in a tense vote, reflecting his shaky ground with party conservatives.
In “The Education of John Boehner,” a fiery speaker gave his side of the story, candidly detailing the blow-by-blows and his biggest regret at the fiscal cliff talks (and it wasn’t telling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to go “go f***” himself).
The juicy highlights:
What spending problem?
What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: “At one point several weeks ago,” Mr. Boehner says, “the president said to me, ‘We don’t have a spending problem.’ “
Admitted to telling Senate Majority Leader Reid to “go f***” himself:
“Those days after Christmas,” he explains, “I was in Ohio, and Harry’s on the Senate floor calling me a dictator and all kinds of nasty things. You know, I don’t lose my temper. I never do. But I was shocked at what Harry was saying about me. I came back to town. Saw Harry at the White House. And that was when that was said,” he says, referring to a pointed “go [blank] yourself” addressed to Mr. Reid.
Called the president too “ideological” to cut spending:
Why has the president been such an immovable force when it comes to cutting spending? “Two reasons,” Mr. Boehner says. “He’s so ideological himself, and he’s unwilling to take on the left wing of his own party.” That reluctance explains why Mr. Obama originally agreed with the Boehner proposal to raise the retirement age for Medicare, the speaker says, but then “pulled back. He admitted in meetings that he couldn’t sell things to his own members. But he didn’t even want to try.”
Biggest strategic mistake:
“What I should have done the day after the election was to come out and say: The House has done its work. The House passed a bill that replaced the sequester with real spending cuts. The House passed a plan extending all of the current tax rates. We passed a budget. We call upon the Senate to do their work.”
Counting on the GOP to stop the sequester:
As Mr. Boehner tells the story: Mr. Obama was sure Republicans would call for ending the sequester—the other “cliff”—because it included deep defense cuts. But Republicans never raised the issue. “It wasn’t until literally last week that the White House brought up replacing the sequester,” Mr. Boehner says. “They said, ‘We can’t have the sequester.’ They were always counting on us to bring this to the table.”Mr. Boehner says he has significant Republican support, including GOP defense hawks, on his side for letting the sequester do its work. “I got that in my back pocket,” the speaker says. He is counting on the president’s liberal base putting pressure on him when cherished domestic programs face the sequester’s sharp knife. Republican willingness to support the sequester, Mr. Boehner says, is “as much leverage as we’re going to get.”