By Alexander Bolton - 03/03/11 01:32 AM EST
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE escalated hostilities between the House and Senate to a new level Wednesday by launching a political attack against Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Finance: Obama signs Puerto Rico bill | Trump steps up attacks on trade | Dodd-Frank backers cheer 'too big to fail' decision | New pressure to fill Ex-Im board Iowa poll: Clinton up 14 on Trump, Grassley in tight race with Dem Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case 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 BidenThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief There is more to cancer than "the cure" Biden puts hope at center of cancer 'moonshot' summit 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 CrapoPost Orlando, hawks make a power play Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers Senate narrowly rejects new FBI surveillance MORE (R-Idaho), Tom HarkinTom HarkinClinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Iowa), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTreasury officials to meet with lawmakers on inversion rules A bipartisan bright spot we can’t afford to pass up: child welfare reform Medicare trust fund running out of money fast MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMike LeeThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Trump to meet with Senate GOP next week First trans Senate candidate: My gender won’t be an issue MORE (R-Utah), Carl LevinCarl LevinFight for taxpayers draws fire Gun debate shows value of the filibuster House won't vote on Navy ship-naming restrictions MORE (D-Mich.), Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems: No August break without Zika deal Senators press Obama education chief on reforms Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans MORE (D-Wash.), Rand PaulRand PaulTrump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office Trump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report MORE (R-Ky.), Jim RischJim RischOvernight Defense: Senate rejects new FBI surveillance powers | Brexit vote looms | Push for new military aid deal with Israel Senators push vote to condemn Russia's 'reckless actions' Overnight Finance: Senate taking up Puerto Rico bill this month | Dems attack SEC chief | House votes to limit IRS donor data MORE (R-Idaho) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: I don't hate Clinton Trump: Hillary probably 'demanded' Lynch meeting Sanders skirts Biden's claim that he'll endorse Clinton 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 CantorLobbying world The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan 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 DurbinClinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Reid backs House Puerto Rico bill McConnell pledges redo vote on Zika after break 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 McConnellCongress fails on promises to restore regular order and stop funding by crisis Overnight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board 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 SchumerFormer Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump 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.