So when Boehner saw Reid at the White House, the normally amiable speaker was steaming.
“Go f--- yourself,” he said, pointing a finger at Reid, according to both Democratic and Republican aides who were there.
“Excuse me?” Reid responded.
Boehner repeated himself. Reid just stared.
The meeting went ahead. Democrats talked tax rates and trade-offs with McConnell. But Boehner refused to engage, sitting stone-faced on a deep couch.
Reid pestered him with questions. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to play good cop.
“John,” she said, “Are you going to try to be a little bit constructive?”
Boehner would not.
“The House has acted,” he said. “It’s up to the Senate.”
On Saturday, McConnell and his staff hunkered down in the senator’s office. Reid did not come in, but his staff got to work in his office.
Only 60 steps separated them, but they were hundreds of thousands of dollars apart on the threshold for raising income tax rates.
McConnell made an offer: The Bush-era tax hikes could expire for people making more than $500,000, or couples making more than $750,000.
Democrats countered with a lower number. On it went, and the numbers got closer together. Republicans went down as far as $450,000 for individuals, $550,000 for couples.
That’s when the bargaining stopped.
Saturday turned to Sunday, and Republicans had still not heard a response to their last offer. Nothing at 11. Nothing at 12. McConnell decided something was wrong. “We couldn’t get the majority leader to counter,” the GOP leader said later. There were now less than 36 hours until the deadline. “The clock was ticking and we were not moving.”
They weren’t moving because Democrats had decided that they had gone as far as they could. Reid and Obama had disagreed privately about what their next offer should be. At one point, Reid was unhappy with an idea that Senate aides said came from Obama — to put the change in Social Security benefits back on the table in exchange for a delay in spending cuts and a rise in the debt limit.
Aides said Reid actually tore up the proposal and threw it into the blazing fire in his ornate green marble fireplace. The paper burned. Reid said he didn’t want evidence that the idea had ever been considered.
Administration officials, for their part, deny that Obama ever considered including the Social Security change in the deal.
Finally, an aide to Reid called an aide to McConnell to make it explicit. There would be no new offer. Take it or leave it.
“It felt like they had chosen the cliff,” a Republican aide said.