“We have a deal,” John Boehner announced to open a special conference with House Republicans on Friday. And then he laughed. There isn’t any deal, and the speaker dismissed rumors of a grand bargain with the White House.
During the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Boehner urged Republicans to remain optimistic about “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” the fiscal-reform package that passed the House earlier this week, even as Senate Democrats pressed to defeat it.
With regard to the upper chamber, House members say that the frustration is palpable. Colleagues, they say, trashed the Senate alternatives under consideration — the McConnell-Reid proposal and the framework put forward by the Gang of Six, which one member reportedly referred to as the “Gang of 666.”
“There was a lot of talk of how much we don’t like the senators sticking their nose in and screwing things up,” said House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.).
Rep. Jason Chaffetz suggested that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) not venture over to the House side of the Capitol anytime soon. “The Senate and the president are in meltdown,” he said. “They have not figured out what they’re going to do. They have no plan, they haven’t put anything on a piece of paper — and the clock is ticking.”
“We’ve got a plan — Cut, Cap, and Balance — and we’re waiting for a response,” added Rep. Bobby Schilling (R., Ill.). He noted, however, that Boehner raised the idea of a short-term debt increase as a possibility.
“He didn’t say ‘short-term,’ but he said there could be something that keeps things going so we keep a little peace of mind and the markets stay stable,” Schilling explained, saying he liked the idea. “I have a problem with giving the president of the United States a checkbook with $2.4 trillion in it, when he’s already proven to us that he’s not a very good steward of taxpayer money.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the Budget Committee chairman, also told reporters that he would not rule out a short-term extension.
On background, numerous members tell us that a deal appears to be on the horizon, but that leadership did not get into specifics. “Things are fluid,” says one GOP freshman. “It’s hard to know what’s on the table and what’s off the table at this point,” adds Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich,), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), the conference chair, responded to the buzz. “Those rumors are greatly exaggerated,” he said. Still, as members hustled back to their offices, Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said that if a deal beyond “Cut, Cap, and Balance” is brokered, House leaders should not expect conservative support.
“We stand firm,” Jordan said, and there “will not be support” for anything else.
Boehner, at a press conference following the closed-door confab, did not reveal details, but he did signal to conservatives that he would not abandon his principles. “We will not increase the debt ceiling without serious cuts in spending and serious changes to the way we spend the American people’s money,” Boehner said. “I’ll just assure you that whatever comes to the floor meets that test.”
“The attention is not on the House anymore. Go stick your microphones in the faces of the senators and the president, and say, ‘We want to see your plan,’” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R., Wyo.). “The House is done.”
“Spend less! Goodbye!” Boehner added, grinning as he exited.