A Speaker’s Spin

A few hours before the House approved the debt-ceiling agreement with relative ease, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sat down with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley to talk about the deal. There was one exchange that stood out.

Pelley: You were unable to get your own caucus behind your bill a few days ago. Do you intend to remain Speaker of the House?

Boehner: I do. When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.

Boehner’s comment was, of course, seized on by many progressive critics of the plan as proof of just how one-sided the deal really is. After all, the goal was to reach some kind of compromise. How good a deal could it possibly be if the smug House Speaker is bragging about getting 98% of what he wanted?

I share much of the frustration about the agreement and won’t even try to deny the fact it leans heavily to the right. But I’d also caution against taking Boehner’s comments at face value.

For one thing, they’re wrong. It’s a conservative agreement, but the Speaker wanted “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” and then the slightly watered down “Son of Cut, Cap, and Balance,” over the course of the last two weeks. The deal approved by the House yesterday stinks, but it’s not CC&B, and it’s not 98% of CC&B, either.

For another, Boehner is just spinning furiously. Note the context: Pelley was asking whether the Speaker actually expects to keep his gavel given his recent setbacks. Boehner wants to make it seem as if he got 98% of what he wanted so he doesn’t look like a weak and hapless Speaker following a process in which he did far more following than leading.

Boehner needs to look strong now, so he can start to wash off his recent embarrassments. His half-hearted boasts should be taken with a grain of salt.

As for the bill his chamber approved last yesterday afternoon, the measure is headed for a Senate floor vote around noon. Passage does not appear to be in doubt.