House Speaker John Boehner got what he wanted. He averted a government shutdown and was able to pass a deal he negotiated with Democrats despite the defections of 59 Republicans. Yet in the process, he likely lost the trust of many conservatives.
When Boehner touted a compromise to cut $38.5 billion from the remainder of the 2011 budget, some conservatives griped, but many understood that there was only so much he could do with the GOP only controlling one chamber of Congress, and that the fight over the 2012 budget was more important. But the backlash has been much more fierce in the past few days as a series of reports by the Congressional Budget Office poked holes in the initial spending reduction claims.
While the argument has involved complex budget accounting, and defenders of Boehner say the criticism has been unfair, either way, he didn't do a good job managing expectations or explaining the CBO estimates. When told about the cuts intitially, most people tought it was pretty simple -- as a result of the deal, the government would spend $38.5 billion less in 2011 than it did in 2010. But that clearly wasn't the case, with the latest CBO figures saying that actual outlays would only decrease by $20 billion to $25 billion -- and even then, over the time period from 2011 to 2021 rather then for the remainder of the year.
The bottom line is that a lot of conservatives will come out of this process feeling duped, meaning that as the debate moves on to the deficit ceiling and the 2012 budget fights, activists will likely demand more and be distrustful when Boehner says he negotiated the best deal possible. After all, more than anything, Boehner is in his current position because the public revolted against backroom deals, gimmicks, and ramming through legislation that people didn't have time to evaluate. The latest CBO score became available just hours before the vote.
So, while Boehner survived this fight, it came at a cost to his credibility that could have ramifications in the future.