"The more you keep on them, the more leverage I've got," Boehner told his charges. His remarks were audible to reporters outside a meeting room in the House basement.
He and other GOP leaders advised the freshmen that they did not know if the two sides can reach a deal by Friday. In a sign that Republicans are bracing for a possible government shutdown, Boehner responded to questions about what could happen. He described which "essential" components of the government would remain open, and noted that during the 1995 shutdown, the Social Security Administration was "able to process checks."
Boehner's behind-closed-doors remarks were generally consistent with his public posture. But they highlighted the difficult balancing act he is engaged in. Boehner and GOP appropriators are trying to negotiate with Senate Democrats and the White House, while preventing a revolt among House conservatives and the 87 Republican freshmen. As are Senate Democrats, GOP leaders are engaged in aggressive public attacks on the other side even as they seek a deal.
Contrary to assertions by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that the GOP has agreed to cuts of $33 billion in a six-month bill that would fund the government for the rest of the year, Boehner insisted, "There is no number."
Biden and Reid continue to insist publicly that there is agreement on the $33 billion figure, although they say what cuts would be included and what policy riders may be in a bill remain at issue. Boehner contended that Biden and Reid are asserting progress in response to "pressure from the left."
The speaker told his troops that they can help the GOP prevail in talks by maintaining attacks on Democrats. "All of that stuff helps," Boehner said.
Boehner argued that Reid "has a much weaker hand than people realize," because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can effectively block Reid from passing legislation if he can keep his conference unified. "To the extent that Mitch can keep his 47 together, he's got a lot more leverage," Boehner said.
He told the freshmen that "senators are not like you," noting that they represent constituencies that are more politically diverse because they are statewide. With pressure from voters eager for aggressive cuts, Boehner said, Democratic senators will start to crack.
Humberto Sanchez contributed