And on Friday night, Boehner himself was unsure what would happen. Halfway through a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, an aide approached Boehner, slipped him a piece a paper, which he read and quickly pocketed.
He then stepped to the podium, and announced what everyone had been waiting for.
“We have a deal,” the Ohio Republican said around 10:30 p.m.
And with that, Boehner had something more — a defining moment in his speakership and a chance to set aside questions about his ability to manage an unwieldy caucus of conservatives, at least for now.
The 61-year-old, swept into the speaker’s chair during last November’s GOP landslide, faced down two Democrats — Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — and answered doubts from the conservative movement about whether he was a true believer.
His colleagues stood and cheered at his announcement of a deal, knowing Boehner secured more than $38.5 billion in cuts, a far higher figure than many of them expected just days before. Boehner still has to get the votes next week for the long-term budget deal, and he’s got a huge sales job ahead on raising the debt limit, not to mention debating the entire 2012 budget.
“It’s a big deal. It shows a great deal of leadership,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), a Boehner ally. “It’s a big win for the speaker.”
In a larger sense, Boehner has achieved more than just a short-term budget victory — in his first three months as speaker, he’s helped turn the entire Washington dialogue into a debate about the size and scope of government. He started the year by getting rid of earmarks, he’s pushing through some of the deepest spending cuts in American history, and he’ll now try to get most of the GOP Conference on board with Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal 2012 budget — one of the most audacious long-term spending plans in recent memory.
All this came together from a politician who was kicked out of leadership 12 years ago and came to the speaker’s job with serious question marks from the right about how he would go about dealmaking with a Democratic president while corralling the 87-strong group of GOP freshmen.