GOP aides: Spending cuts held up deal

House and Senate negotiators had reached a deal on controversial policy riders late Thursday night, according to a GOP leadership source close to the intense talks that resulted in an eleventh-hour deal to avert government shutdown, despite Democrats’ claims to the contrary. 

House and Senate Democratic lawmakers spent most of Friday attacking Republicans for holding up a government funding measure over a controversial social policy rider to defund Planned Parenthood, but a source close to the situation said that Democratic attacks were "just a ruse." 

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In fact, the issue of how to handle the abortion-related rider was decided Thursday night: The Senate would take an up or down vote on the matter. 

But White House officials told reporters early Saturday that funding for women’s health groups was the sticking point. 

In the Oval Office, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden told Boehner in no uncertain terms that the president would not sign a deal that included policy riders that cut funding for Planned Parenthood and similar groups, according to the White House.

When Obama's team returned to Capitol Hill late Thursday night, they said they found that the agreement had "not been transmitted" to the staff levels in the same way it had been agreed to in the president’s meeting.

"It was puzzling to all of us," one White House official said.

According the Republican leadership source, Friday negotiations were devoted to "offers and counter-offers" on the amount of spending cuts. Democrats had offered approximately $34.5 billion in cuts, $1.5 billion more than the $33 billion that they had been wed to, until the last few days.

On Friday morning, President Obama called Speaker John Boehner to "express displeasure that the Speaker would not accept the White House’s inadequate spending cuts," the leadership aide explained. 

But, again, the White House has a different view of the debate. The size of the spending cuts in the deal, White House officials said, was not in dispute. In fact, the president was willing to go higher than the final figure depending on the composition of the cuts and as long as they did not affect investments that President Obama wanted to protect, the officials said.

Fast-forward 10 hours, and "the White House finally moved up to 38.5 billion in cuts," the Republican source said.

With 90 minutes to go until the federal government shutdown during wartime, House Boehner's Chief of Staff Barry Jackson, marched into the closed-door House GOP conference meeting.

Jackson gave a nod to Boehner, and the top-ranking House Republican announced that they had a deal.

And news of a deal was welcomed by the GOP House lawmakers, anxious to avoid a government shutdown that would leave military troops with half of their paychecks. 



That deal set in motion a fast-tracked procedure whereby both chambers of Congress approved a stop-gap spending bill to carry government operations until the deal could be placed into legislative language and introduced three-days before the House would vote on it.

The road to an eleventh-hour deal proved precarious for the newly elected House majority Republicans, who believe that they were sent to Washington with a mandate to shrink the size of government, reduce the debt and spur economic growth and job creation. 

Boehner had to reconcile the reality of a wily conference bent on cutting $100 billion in spending from President Obama's 2011 budget request, with the fact that House Republicans only constitute "one-half of one-third of the government," as the Speaker has started to say recently. 

In the end – if Congress does approve the long-term bill next week – Boehner will have a model by which to carry out the next big fights over the 2012 budget and raising the debt ceiling, which will need to be done in May.

The Republican leadership aide explained part of Boehner's successful strategy: "From the beginning of this process, Boehner met every week and often more than that with our members, and the freshmen specifically, to update them on where we were, what the strategy was, where we were headed, and to listen to their concerns.  Not every member may vote for the final bill, but Boehner kept our team united and the reaction from the large majority of our members was very positive."