Boehner Briefs GOP on Debt Talks
Is the speaker angry about the negotiations? “I sure as hell am.”


Robert Costa

Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.), a leading freshman, tells NRO that “now that I know” what House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are pursuing, he feels more comfortable with the GOP’s strategy. “We finally got a lot of the great details that we needed,” he says. “I think it’s going real well.”

Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.) says he’s “starting to hear” a sentiment from leadership that is more in line with that of the conservative and freshman members of the conference. “It’s something that we have heard here recently, and we’re starting to hear more of it,” he tells NRO. “Out of today’s discussion it’s clear that the conference is unified behind the need for a balanced-budget amendment.” Graves said the House vote on a balance-budget amendment, scheduled for the week of July 25, would send an important signal to the White House.

Still, not every Republican leaving the closed-door confab was pleased. “Only one word comes to mind right now: chaos,” says one leading House conservative. “There is no plan. Cantor’s cuts would never pass the House, Boehner has walked out and Obama is not serious about anything. There’s nothing.” Another conservative member agreed: “It’s going to be a very rocky few weeks,” he says. “We’re holding, but beyond that, I have no idea what is going to happen.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R., Calif.) warned that there was still “great concern” among members who felt extremely let down by the budget deal negotiated in April to avoid a government shutdown, which turned out to be full of phony spending cuts and gimmicks. He said bad taste left over from that deal should give leadership added motivation to keep the caucus happy. “I think there’s a general belief that we learn from our mistakes,” he says.

Rep. James Lankford (R., Okla.), a freshman on the House Budget Committee, tells NRO that for many House Republicans, even the Biden cuts, the majority of which aren’t scheduled to go into effect for years, would not be enough to justify an increase to the debt limit. “Among the freshman and among most the people in our conference, the conversation is that the Biden cuts do not help us solve the problem,” Lankford said. “We need to see something structural [like a balanced budget amendment], so we don’t have to keep raising the debt limit forever.”

Another House Republican, however, thinks that Boehner knows exactly what he is doing. “He is slowly drawing Obama out,” the congressman says. “Remember, Boehner knows that this is not just about the debt limit. He is making Obama articulate his positions, now, so if we come back in one week, or in six months, we can read back his comments and start to move reforms forward, perhaps after all of this drama has passed.”

How exactly the drama will pass is as of yet unclear.

Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review. Franklin fellow Andrew Stiles contributed reporting.


editors note: This article has been amended since its initial publication.