By Russell Berman and Erik Wasson - 03/31/11 10:20 PM EDT
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told freshman members of his conference Thursday that “there is no number” agreed to in a potential budget deal with Senate Democrats and the White House.
In a briefing to update first-term lawmakers on spending negotiations, Boehner said he told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after a meeting Wednesday that they had no agreement, only to watch as Senate leaders announced the opposite, according to freshman lawmakers in the room.
“He said, 'I left the meeting yesterday with Harry Reid and I said, "Let’s be clear: We have no number because we have no agreement here." ' And [Boehner] said, 'So help me I walked out of the meeting and all of a sudden they start launching out that there’s this number,' ” Lankford said.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats have said publicly that there is consensus around $33 billion in spending cuts and that negotiators are working out the details.
Boehner, however, has denied any agreement, most recently in a press conference Thursday morning.
“There is no number, that is what they told us, there is no number,” Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) said. “No number has been discussed with him at all.”
He said most of the meeting involved a message from leadership that the party is not seeking a government shutdown.
“The majority of that conversation was about how we are not going to shut down the government,” Cravaack said.
Boehner told the freshmen that he had "no idea" whether the spending bill would be finished by April 8, when current federal funding expires.
Lawmakers said they had what Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) described as “an adult conversation” about the consequences of a government shutdown.
“We’re all hoping it doesn’t happen but we’re preparing for it,” Lankford said.
There was an emphasis on how a shutdown now would be much different than the shutdowns of 1995-96, when some departments and agencies were already funded and thus were unaffected. Unlike 1995, Congress has not appropriated money for any part of the federal government beyond April 8.
“It’s a different day than 1995,” Lankford said.
Lawmakers described a greater sense of unity within the conference as Republicans keep the pressure on Senate Democrats to pass a budget bill.
“We don’t know where the Senate’s at. They’re just sitting on their hands,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said.
Cravaack said freshmen were strongly supportive of Boehner: “I don’t see the freshmen revolting or anything like that. What I saw in there was a team. Boehner is the quarterback and he’s calling the plays,” he said. “We have to execute the plays.”
Asked, however, whether he would agree to a compromise cutting only $33 billion, Cravaack said he would have to see the bill before saying he will vote for it.
Reed said the message from leadership was to “keep pressuring” Democrats for more cuts.
The message from freshmen, Reed said, was “continue the fight. We’ll see where the numbers come out and then move on. We came here in November to take on the real hard decisions.”