Boehner to GOP on Dems: "We're gonna kick their ass" on the budget; Update: House, Senate agree to top-line spending figure?

Grain of salt here: The scoop comes courtesy of lefty Greg Sargent, who has an incentive to push the “Republican schism” storyline on which his post elaborates. Even so, he’s not the only one reporting today on a split between Boehner and Cantor on how to approach budget negotiations. And he’s not the only one alleging that the GOP leadership — or, at least, Boehner and Kevin McCarthy — are chatting with Democrats about a possible compromise bill.

“If we stick together and keep the pressure on the Democrats, we’re going to win this fight,” Boehner told assembled Republicans, according to the source. “We’re gonna kick their ass.”…

Here’s what’s happening, according to the source: The essence of Cantor’s disagreement with Boehner is that Republicans should not be starting with that number in talks with the White House, and that they should be starting with a higher level of cuts, beause starting at $30 billion ensures that they will ultimately get less — which will be unacceptable to conservatives. Cantor does disagree with Boehner over how deep the cuts should ultimately be, but a more important point of disagreement is over how to handle these negotiations…

Here’s where Boehner’s “kick ass” quote comes in. Republican aides believe that Boehner is closing in on a $30 billion deal with the White House. They think he’s using rousing language before the caucus to signal to conservatives that he’s drawing a hard line in talks, partly because he knows that ultimately those talks will likely yield a deal that will be difficult to sell to them. Signaling a real fight now could make that sell easier later.

I don’t understand either part of that. The White House knows that Boehner’s under intense pressure from tea partiers to stick to the $61 billion figure that the GOP pledged to cut. That pressure is the only reason Democrats have come up to offering $30 billion or so; realistically, they have to meet him at least halfway or he’ll be forced to walk away. So they are starting at a higher level of cuts, and the White House will probably have to come up further towards that level to make this compromise remotely feasible. Likewise, the tough talk about “kicking ass” won’t mean jack to tea-party freshmen if/when Boehner comes back with a package that falls short of the $61 billion mark, regardless of what it consists of. That’s precisely why he’s reaching out to Blue Dogs, of course — because he knows that plenty of freshmen will walk away from the deal and he’ll need to replace their votes in order to pass the thing. (In fact, I wonder if the “split” between him and Cantor hasn’t been contrived as a sort of good cop/bad cop play for the benefit of the base, to reassure them that their deep-cutting interests are being represented in the leadership even as that same leadership inches towards a compromise.) The “kick ass” line only makes sense if he’s trying to gird them for battle on the truly important budget to come, the one for next year that’ll finally finally finally tackle entitlements. I.e. “let’s get this year’s small-potatoes budget off the table and then kick their ass where it counts.”

Via RCP, below you’ll find Boehner at this morning’s presser urging Reid and the Senate to pass a damned bill of their own already so that both sides have some cards on the table. Why won’t that happen? Quote:

Democrats call the suggestion that they simply bring their proposal to the floor unrealistic. Without a deal with House Republicans, the plan would not pass the House. Additionally, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., according to GOP aides, is following Boehner’s lead. GOP aides say McConnell and Senate Republicans will back a bill if Boehner and House Republicans will. Senate Republicans are also unlikely to provide the seven votes Reid would need to pass his own bill without House GOP support.

If Reid gets a bill through with seven Republican votes, it’ll only weaken Boehner’s hand by proving that there’s bipartisan support for cuts below the magic $61 billion number. So passing the damned bill is a nonstarter; the only potential starters are (a) a shutdown or (b) negotiating a damned compromise with the White House, if/when President Present ever decides he’s ready to engage.

Update: Let the “ass-kicking” begin!

The White House and congressional Republicans edged closer to a spending-cut deal Wednesday as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) directed House Appropriations Committee staff to begin negotiations with their Senate-side counterparts.

The move suggests the two sides have agreed on a top-line number, as the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), has said consistently he would not initiate talks unless a figure had been settled on.

They won’t say what the figure is but an aide will say that they won’t be discussing the House riders related to Planned Parenthood, etc. Since it’d be insane to reach a delicate deal on the budget and then have it implode over a stalemate on hot-button issues like that, I can only assume that Boehner’s planning to strip the riders out if need be and then force a vote on them as separate bills.

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