Magazine | May 2, 2011, Issue

To: Archives, From: West Wing Staff


TO: Archives

FROM: West Wing Staff

RE: Attached notes

Please file these contemporaneous notes of the latest budget negotiations. Marked CLOSE HOLD.

Thank you.

Meeting begins.

Present: POTUS, Speaker of the House, Mr. Plouffe, others.

POTUS begins by reminding SOH that government shutdown would be bad for everyone. Devastation, etc. Family vacations ruined by federal-park closure, sad kids, etc., etc. SOH reminds POTUS that his family never had vacations — too poor, etc. — but that he understands on an intellectual level that they’re important. SOH becomes emotional, asks for a moment to regain composure.

SOH returns to room and demands further cuts to Planned Parenthood and assorted other budgetary items. POTUS refuses to give way on several of them, but reminds SOH that there’s unspent census money that technically counts as a cut and they could simply call that the cut and have a drink and call it a day. SOH demands further cuts in Pell Grants and AmeriCorps.

POTUS counters that Pell Grants are sacred — provide college education for the poor and underprivileged. SOH recalls his own underprivileged upbringing — no one ever offered him a grant, or an AmeriCorps job. SOH becomes emotional. Sobs quietly for a moment.

POTUS hands SOH some tissues, reminds SOH that they still haven’t counted the unspent census funds. SOH seems cheered up by this, and demands those funds be counted. SOH then renews calls to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, high-speed rail, implementation of FCC Internet regulations dubbed “net neutrality,” and a collection of other programs and services.

POTUS replies that these cuts go too deep. Conversation gets heated. POTUS claims SOH and his party are trying to renege on crucial bonds between people, government. SOH replies that POTUS has outspent every president in history and has refused to cut even a small part of his budget. SOH reminds POTUS that the people are demanding austerity; POTUS responds that it’s not the people, it’s his people — the Tea Party and their ilk — who are demanding draconian cuts in a budget that contains necessary and effective programs. SOH excuses himself to confer with his colleagues.

They return to demand further cuts in public broadcasting, the Department of Agriculture, and foreign aid.

POTUS demands to know the full extent of SOH’s required cuts. Reminds SOH that in fact, they’ve already cut several billion from the budget when the census funds are added in.

#page#SOH replies that he thought they had already counted the census savings. POTUS looks confused and says that no, they hadn’t. SOH asks where they are if the census funds are counted. SOH starts jotting figures on a pad when his pen gives out. Asks to borrow a pen; POTUS instead says he’ll do the math. POTUS adds up figures for several moments, asking occasionally for clarification in re: unused census-fund numbers, then asks for numbers for the unused stimulus funds for construction, then jots some figures, does some addition, scribbles for a while, mutters to self, then looks up and remarks that he’s shocked to see that they’ve already cut $25 billion from the federal budget, and he compliments the SOH on his relentless negotiating skills.

Seriously, he says, John, you took me to the woodshed. Props to you. It wasn’t pretty, but I think we know who the big winner is, here. You can report to your tea-party supporters that I, POTUS, have been schooled.

SOH seems upbeat, then his eyes narrow. He demands to look at POTUS’s calculations. He reviews them for a moment. Then demands more. We need to find another $13 billion from this, he says.

POTUS slaps his forehead. He forgot to add in the unused census funds. SOH says he thought they counted it at the beginning. POTUS says he meant to, but in all the heavy negotiating, he was too battered to remember. POTUS once again compliments SOH on his tireless focus and immovability.

POTUS adds in unused census funds, reaches $38 billion in savings. Asks SOH if this is enough. SOH looks at the worksheet, then at POTUS, then at the assembled crowd in the negotiating room, and he thanks them all for their hard work, and reminds them all that it’s the economic future of the country that’s at stake, that this just isn’t about politics. As his lower lip begins to tremble, staffers begin moving away.

SOH weeps uncontrollably. POTUS asks if they have a deal. SOH sniffles, reaches out a hand. They shake. Staff exit quickly to prepare press release. POTUS and SOH alone in room.

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