Behind the scenes in negotiations that averted government shutdown, President Obama had just agreed to House Speaker John Boehner’s request to include a Republican policy rider to ban taxpayer funding of abortion in Washington, DC, but Boehner wanted more: to defund Planned Parenthood.
The response from the president was blunt.
“Nope. Zero,” the president told Boehner, according to a senior Democratic aide. “And then the Speaker tried to engage it.”
“Nope. Zero,” the president replied again. “He was like, ‘John, this is it.’”
“There were a good 10 minutes of just sitting there of everybody looking at each other,” the aide recalled. “I mean, it was like, there’s nothing to do here. The store’s closed.”
“It was awkward, like, what do you do now?”
“They realized that kind of the gig was up,” the aide said of Republicans. “They weren’t going to get it included. It wasn’t going to happen. The president and Sen. Reid were prepared to say, ‘This bill will go down if you make this about social policy.’ That was the line in the sand.”
The Senate’s number-two Democrat Dick Durbin eventually suggested a compromise: the Senate would hold votes on eliminating the Planned Parenthood funding, subject to a 60-vote threshold that Republicans would never reach in the Democrat-controlled upper chamber of Congress.
“By (Friday) morning they pretty much knew that this was all they were going to get,” the aide said.
Still, it took until 8p Friday before both parties agreed on a top line number. Then Republicans wanted the appropriators to switch a few things around. More time went by. In the end the clock was hitting 10:30p Friday night when the chief staff negotiators – Rob Nabors, the White House legislative affairs director, Boehner chief of staff Barry Jackson, and Reid’s top staffer David Krone – finally shook hands on a final deal. It was a good thing they settled matters when they did, too. Right at that time, the president called Nabors and Reid called Krone to find out “what the hell was going on,” the aide said. Fortunately, the negotiators had good news for their bosses: the $38 billion deal was done.
Ultimately, both parties received certain concessions in the final deal. In addition to the Planned Parenthood vote, Republicans will also force the Senate to vote on defunding the health care reform bill, subject to a 60-vote threshold as well. Republicans also managed to insert a rider relating to a DC school vouchers program and another rider to bar money from being spent on importing Guantanamo Bay detainees to this country. Democrats, meanwhile, were pleased to settle on $17.8 billion in cuts to mandatory spending.
So what did the Democrats get? Let's see...they had to agree to a bunch of ranting in the House about evil unchaste sluts who can't keep their legs closed; they had to agree to a dress rehearsal for defunding health care reform, and Planned Parenthood is spared for another six months. But they gave up health care for poor women within the District of Columbia.
But if you think for one minute that we aren't going to go through this crap again in six months, guess again.
One thing I do know is that e-mail systems at the Capitol must have been on fire this morning, because twenty minutes ago our phone rang:
CALLER: Hello, this is [poor sap who has to make these calls] from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] --
ME (interrupts): You've got to be joking. After you gave away the store last night? [hangs up]