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."
Mr. Boehner is frustrated that Republicans were portrayed by the press as dogmatic and unyielding in these talks. "I'm the guy who put revenues on the table the day after the election," he says. "And I'm the guy who put the [income] threshold at a million dollars. Then we agreed to let the rates go up, on dividends, capital gains as a way of trying to move them into a deal. . . . But we could never get him to step up," Mr. Boehner says with a shrug. Negotiations with the White House ended in stalemate when "it became painfully obvious that the president won't cut spending."
Once the talks broke down, the eventual scaled-back deal with no spending cuts was brokered by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with Mr. Boehner on the sidelines. He says that after the tax package passed the Senate, the House Republican caucus debated two alternatives. One was to amend the Senate bill by attaching spending cuts, and the other was to vote up or down on the Senate bill.
"We were already off the cliff," he says of the rushed Jan. 1 vote, and he feared that a no vote would do "serious damage to the economy." He denies twisting arms to win passage. Even though a majority of Republicans voted no, and he took flak from conservative groups as a sellout, "in the end, most of our members wanted this to pass, but they didn't want to vote for it."Roll Call reports:
A concerted effort to unseat Speaker John A. Boehner was under way the day of his re-election to the position, but participants called it off 30 minutes before the House floor vote, CQ Roll Call has learned.
A group of disaffected conservatives had agreed to vote against the Ohio lawmaker if they could get at least 25 members to join the effort. But one member, whose identity could not be verified, rescinded his or her participation the morning of the vote, leaving the group one person short of its self-imposed 25-member threshold. Only 17 votes against Boehner were required to force a second ballot, but the group wanted to have insurance.
Even with 24 members, the group would easily have been able to force a second ballot round, but the effort was aborted in frenetic discussions on the House floor.
“There was an effort to get to a particular number,” said one Republican member who voted for Boehner but was familiar with the effort to oust him.
Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho played key roles in organizing the plot. But participants describe its origin as organic and not led by any particular member, despite the suggestion by at least one House Republican that Amash was the ringleader.