Politics

John Boehner And Mitch McConnell In Close Contact As Deal Gets Hammered Out In Senate

McConnell is in regular contact with Boehner and “isn’t going to agree to anything he doesn’t think can pass the House,” says a Senate GOP leadership aide.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell closing in on an agreement to temporarily raise the nation’s debt limit and reopen the government, one outstanding question hanging over the talks remains: Can Speaker John Boehner convince conservatives in the House to go along with the compromise?

Reid and McConnell appear close to an agreement that would re-open the government through mid-January and the debt ceiling would be extended through February.

McConnell “isn’t going to agree to anything he doesn’t think can pass the House,” a Senate GOP leadership aide said Monday, adding that McConnell has “absolutely” been providing Boehner with regular updates.

“We are, as always, in close contact with the senator and his staff,” a Boehner aide acknowledged.

Of course, senators can cut all the bipartisan compromises they like, but without buy-in from the House Republican conference there is no actual deal.

For example, during the 2011 fight over unemployment insurance, McConnell and Reid cut a deal after weeks of talks and presented it to Boehner, who initially said he could move it through the lower chamber. But after presenting it to his conference, Boehner suddenly backed out. The deal collapsed, and it took weeks of political pain before Republicans finally came around.

That pattern has been repeated time and again, not only undermining Boehner’s ability to lead his conference but also eroding McConnell’s trust in Boehner’s ability to read and deliver his own conference.

And with the nation focused on the looming debt crisis — and a difficult primary and general election ahead of him — McConnell isn’t looking to be left holding a bag conservatives oppose again.

McConnell “isn’t going to agree to anything he doesn’t think can pass the House,” a Senate GOP leadership aide said Monday, adding that McConnell has “absolutely” been providing Boehner with regular updates.

But House Republicans cautioned Boehner is unlikely to have too much of an active role in the talks, and it remains unclear what behind the scenes efforts he may be making to steer the deal.

Indeed, Republican aides in the House noted that Boehner has often been frustrated by the willingness of Senate Republicans to cut unpalatable deals with Reid or Vice President Joe Biden in the past, which have exacerbated tensions within the House conference.

And at this point, Republicans in both chambers acknowledged there’s not much evidence the agreement being hammered out will garner enough Republican support to move it.

“Members on Saturday morning were very unhappy with the Senate plan,” one senior House Republican aide said. Although the new plan is markedly different than the plan presented Saturday, “[Rep.] Tim Huelskamp isn’t going to be doing backflips over it, it’s safe to say,” the aide warned, adding that leadership will have a better sense of where the conference stands following a meeting tomorrow morning.

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