In “The Price of Politics,” Bob Woodward hammers President Obama for bungling negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner over a “grand bargain.” That was the elusive deal to raise the debt ceiling while trimming the deficit by $4 trillion by raising revenue and tackling entitlements. Thomas Friedman took the president to task in his Sunday column, too. But the New York Times columnist hits the nail on the head by asking a simple question.
Obama made every mistake in the book in trying to negotiate a “grand bargain” on taxes and spending last year with Mr. Boehner. But I’ve always had one question: Boehner said that he walked away after Obama, at the 11th hour, asked for $400 billion more in taxes to bring along more Democrats. Why did Boehner just walk away and not call Obama back and say, “Here is my deal — no $400 billion more — take the original bargain or leave it.” He didn’t do that because he was afraid Obama might take it — and Boehner knew he could not deliver his Tea Party base or would lose his speakership trying. So he didn’t try.
Sure, the president tried to up the ante, but why didn’t Boehner make Obama eat the deal? A deal that had the grudging support of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? We’ve long known the answer to this. Boehner didn’t have the votes and had no hope of getting them.
Pelosi clued me into what was to come during a meeting with columnists in March 2011. When I asked her if Boehner had the votes to lift the debt ceiling, she said, “You have to ask him. You know me; I’m a vote-counter. We never lost a vote. You understand. We never lost a vote. I never depended upon Republican votes, either.”
By that point in his speakership, Boehner had lost many votes at the hands of recalcitrant tea party freshmen who came to Washington to change things. But the hope was that he would at least be able to get them to do the right thing for the nation, to not put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. We learned in late July 2010 that Boehner was not able.
“Debtmaggedon” was averted on Aug. 2. A crisis that could have been averted had Boehner had more control over his caucus to make Obama take the deal he’d already agreed to.