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How Speaker Boehner brought a recalcitrant tea party to the budget deal

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"It has been a grueling process," said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, speaking from the House floor late Friday night. "We didn't do it at this late hour for the drama. We did it because it has been very hard to arrive at this point."

Over weeks of intense negotiation, Senate Democrats moved from a position of proposing zero spending cuts to agreeing to nearly $38 billion. House Republicans campaigned in 2010 to cut spending $100 billion below the president’s FY 2011 request. They settled for $78.5 billion. The projected deficit for FY 2011 is $1.65 trillion.

Winding up a spending bill for the last six months of FY 2011 was supposed to be the easy negotiation, compared with tough issues to come: a budget for FY 2012 and a toxic vote to raise the national debt ceiling.

Instead, talks between House and Senate leaders – and more recently, the White House – proved tough and protracted. The goal posts shifted. Differences narrowing one hour split wide open the next.

Boehner a hostage to GOP "extremists"?

Senate Democrats blamed House GOP tea party freshmen. Speaker Boehner was a hostage of “extremists” in his own ranks, the narrative ran. A likeable man, he deserved pity, they said.

Tea party freshmen blamed the Senate. Majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada never engaged the House over FY 2011 spending, they said. Aside from a perfunctory up-or-down vote on a House bill that cut $61.5 billion in spending, the Senate failed to produce a bill of its own. As a result, conservatives said, there was nothing to negotiate.

But Boehner defied his critics to both rally his caucus and produce an agreement, without shutting down government.

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