There's been a lot of buzz about John Boehner's denial of yesterday's reports that a deal had been reached to avoid a government shutdown, but while soundbites from Boehner's statement may have seemed definitive, taken as a whole, what he said seems to confirm that the basic framework of a deal is in place.
The full video is below the fold, but let's start with the heart of his statement, delivered during his prepared remarks:
There's no agreement on numbers, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to. We control one-half of one-third of the government here, but we're going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get to keep the government open and funded through the balance of this fiscal year.
Most people have focused on the very first sentence, but the second one is just as important. While he is plainly stating that nothing has been finalized (which yesterday's reports acknowledged), he's also laying the groundwork for explaining to tea party Republicans why the GOP won't get everything it wants.
Boehner's statement makes clear that he will fight, but only for "the largest spending cuts that we can get to keep the government open." That's the type of thing you say when you're getting ready to sell a compromise—not when you're about to dig in.
A reporter asked Boehner to get into the details of the negotiations, but he refused, saying "I'm not going to get into the negotiations here." Another reporter asked him to characterize the negotiations without getting into the details and he would only say "we're talking." But the fact that both sides are talking is crucial—even though Boehner says there isn't an agreement on the numbers, there does appear to be an agreement on overall spending levels, allowing negotiators from House and Senate Appropriations Committees to work out the details of the final deal.
Boehner also indicated that he wants to get the negotiations over with so that he can move on to other issues, another sign that a deal is imminent. "The sooner we get this finished," he said, "the sooner we can get on to dealing with the really big issues facing our country." Boehner pointed to entitlement spending as the GOP's next focus, and indeed the GOP is preparing to unveil a package of entitlement cuts next Tuesday, something they won't want to do with a shutdown looming.
Boehner also said that Republicans had "promised the American people we would fight to cut spending, and that is what we are doing." The word choice here is important: he did not say Republicans had promised to deliver a certain amount of spending cuts. That's the kind of thing that you say when you're not going to get everything you wanted.
Perhaps the most revealing portion of the press conference came at the end:
QUESTION: Speaker Boehner, HR1 already failed in the Senate. So whatever you're going to negotiate, even though you say there's not a number, is going to be, could be as much as $30 billion less than HR1. What do you say to those tea party activists who are very unhappy with [inaudible]?
BOEHNER: We control one half of of one third the government here in Washinton, we can't impose our will on another body, we can't impose our will on the Senate. All we can do is to fight for all of the spending cuts that we can get an agreement to, and the spending limitations as well.
Bottom-line: Boehner clearly wanted his soundbites to emphasize that there is not yet a final agreement, but nobody claimed yesterday that there was a final deal in place. The report was that a tentative deal on overall spending levels had been reached—not a final deal, which would include riders and the composition of cuts.
But even though Boehner wanted to send the message that there wasn't a deal in place, if you actually listen to everything he's saying, he's making it clear that he understands that there is a limit to what Republicans can actually get and that he wants to get a deal done quickly.
Unless Boehner changes course, that means a final agreement on a funding deal should come soon. Once it does, the next question will be whether tea party Republicans embrace it, or if they bolt as they did during the last short-term extension, forcing Boehner to once again rely on Democratic votes to get the final deal passed into law.
Video of Speaker Boehner's press conference: