Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 | 4:19 p.m.
House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t hold back when he spotted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the White House lobby last Friday.
It was only a few days before the nation would go over the fiscal cliff, no bipartisan agreement was in sight, and Reid had just publicly accused Boehner of running a “dictatorship” in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal.
“Go f— yourself,” Boehner sniped as he pointed his finger at Reid, according to multiple sources present.
Reid, a bit startled, replied: “What are you talking about?”
Boehner repeated: “Go f— yourself.”
The harsh exchange just a few steps from the Oval Office — which Boehner later bragged about to fellow Republicans — was only one episode in nearly two months of high-stakes negotiations laced with distrust, miscommunication, false starts and yelling matches as Washington struggled to ward off $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts.
The White House and Congress knew of the self-imposed deadline for more than 17 months and they still blew past it, as a president fresh off a strong reelection victory tested — and ultimately broke — the Republican Party’s fidelity to its tax-cuts-only governing philosophy.
It took a late intervention of two Senate veterans — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden — to rescue the negotiations. Their relationship, forged over two decades on Capitol Hill, helped move Congress to a resolution because it wasn’t burdened by the raw political conflicts of the past and the legislative fights still to come.
But even those longtime Washington hands couldn’t prevent a New Year’s Day drama in the House. Boehner weathered a revolt against the bill, which played out during two meetings in the Capitol basement in which his fellow GOP lawmakers lashed out at having to accept the measure without spending cuts.
After hours of uncertainty — even insults against “sleep-deprived octogenarians” from the Senate who passed the bill in the dead of night — the House gave final approval to the deal, 257-167. It was carried by 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans. And it exposed another split: Boehner voted yes, but his top deputies, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, voted no.