By Alexander Bolton - 03/03/11 01:32 AM EST
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerReid: We're not breaking the budget deal Overnight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win House GOP changes rules to thwart Dems MORE escalated hostilities between the House and Senate to a new level Wednesday by launching a political attack against Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidReid: We're not breaking the budget deal Overnight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes MORE (D-Nev.).
The surprise criticism of Reid, whose spokesman quickly fired back at the Ohio Republican, came as Congress cleared a bipartisan stopgap bill that at least temporarily averted a government shutdown.
President Obama on Wednesday signed the two-week continuing resolution (CR) without issuing comment on it. The quick enactment of the measure was considered a significant victory for Boehner because the Senate essentially rubber-stamped the House-passed bill.
Boehner isn’t resting on his laurels, however. During a speech Wednesday morning, he accused Reid of not having a plan to address the $1.6 trillion federal deficit. A Reid spokesman countered that Boehner is getting pushed around by Tea Party-allied freshman members.
The back-and-forth came on the same day Senate Democratic leaders announced that Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden will host cancer research summit in DC Reid throws wrench into Clinton vice presidential picks Biden at West Point: Diversity on battlefield an 'incredible asset' MORE would take a leading role in spending negotiations with congressional Republicans.
It also came just two days after Boehner and Reid met in the majority leader’s office to discuss the budget.
Reid wanted to pass a month-long CR, but Boehner refused.
The Senate voted 91-9 on Wednesday to pass the House bill that cuts $4 billion from the 2011 budget. It funds the government through March 18.
A small mix of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats opposed the bill, including Sens. Mike CrapoMike CrapoOvernight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Housing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform MORE (R-Idaho), Tom HarkinTom HarkinDo candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? The Hill's 12:30 Report Mark Mellman: Parsing the primary processes MORE (D-Iowa), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Senate GOP gears up for fight over Gitmo transfers House Republicans press case for impeaching IRS commissioner MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMike LeeSenate set for showdown over women in the draft Overnight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Overnight Tech: Trade groups press NC on bathroom law MORE (R-Utah), Carl LevinCarl LevinCarl, Sander Levin rebuke Sanders for tax comments on Panama trade deal Supreme Court: Eye on the prize Congress got it wrong on unjustified corporate tax loopholes MORE (D-Mich.), Patty MurrayPatty MurrayLawmakers blast poultry, meat industries over worker injuries Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Wash.), Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Paul ties release of 9/11 docs to defense bill Will Ted Cruz let it go? MORE (R-Ky.), Jim RischJim RischOvernight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Sen. Cory Gardner endorses Cruz MORE (R-Idaho) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersTea Party group ‘endorses’ Wasserman Schultz Wasserman Schultz's primary rival: She can’t count on Clinton fans The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (I-Vt.).
During the first two months of the 112th Congress, Boehner and Reid had occasionally jabbed at each other, but had largely pulled their punches. That changed Wednesday.
During his speech to the Credit Union National Association, Boehner stated: “I’m not sure whether Sen. Reid has a plan to cut spending and keep the government running. If he does, I think the American people would be interested in seeing it. If he doesn’t, I think he owes the American people an explanation.”
Those remarks stunned Democratic leaders, who are accustomed to barbs from the No. 2 House Republican leader, Rep. Eric CantorEric CantorJohn Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince The Trail 2016: Dems struggle for unity Overnight Regulation: Supreme Court rejects GOP redistricting challenge MORE (Va.), but not from Boehner.
Jon Summers, Reid’s spokesman, swung back hard.
“That’s tough talk from someone who is being bossed around by a bunch of freshmen,” Summers said. “It’s surprising that the Speaker of the House is unaware that the Senate is voting on a bill to fund the government and cut spending [Wednesday] morning.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinReid: 'Lay off' Sanders criticism Senators tout 4.5B defense spending bill that sticks to budget Lawmakers seek changes in TSA PreCheck program MORE (Ill.) said he was surprised by Boehner’s blast.
“It does discourage me,” Durbin said. “I know John and it’s not his style. John worked closely with Democrats for No Child Left Behind, and I have a very positive feeling toward him. But I sense that he is facing a firestorm in his own caucus from the Tea Party members who are demanding that he show his teeth in this relationship, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Aides say Boehner and Reid have a cordial relationship, while noting they have not worked extensively with one another.
After the Nov. 2 election, Reid praised Boehner as “a consensus guy” who is “willing to work with us.”
A Senate Democratic aide said Wednesday’s flare-up does not necessarily mean the relationship between Reid and Boehner has gone sour.
“Reid’s spokesman saw what Boehner said and responded in a way that a spokesman will,” said the staffer. “That won’t change the fact that Reid and Boehner have a courteous and professional relationship.”
Still, the stakes over the budget are extremely high, and both leaders are under an enormous amount of pressure to broker the best deal for their respective parties.
Reid will be getting much more help from the White House in the coming weeks.
Going forward, most of the Democratic spending negotiations will be handled by Biden and senior White House officials.
Senate Democrats are meeting to identify spending cuts they can coalesce behind, but Biden is in charge of making offers to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellBill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes Senate votes to block financial adviser rule MORE (R-Ky.).
“The White House is inviting both sides to negotiate a long-term solution led by Vice President Biden,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' MORE (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference. “If Republicans are serious about negotiating a responsible compromise, they should accept this invitation immediately and get to work.”
Sources stressed that Reid will still be heavily involved in budget negotiations. Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone will continue to play a central role in talks with Boehner’s top aide, Barry Jackson, and other GOP negotiators, they said.
The tapping of Biden to be the Democrats’ lead negotiator was expected by Democratic lawmakers. The White House has had a deliberate strategy of keeping Obama above the legislative fray in Congress to preserve his political capital for later in the debate.
That frustrated some Senate Democrats, who were outmaneuvered by House Republicans.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, who until recently served as Biden’s spokesman, said on Wednesday that the president’s team has demonstrated a willingness to compromise.
Obama has embraced a five-year spending freeze, but is willing to go further.
“We can do more,” Carney added.