During the debt ceiling fight in 2011, Republicans decried President Obama’s debt limit plan for its use of a so-called “gimmick” to reduce spending. The Democrats’ plan and Obama’s budget eliminated $1 trillion reserved for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would not be spent anyway as the two wars were winding down. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the Republican leadership repeatedly complained that the OCO savings were an imaginary “gimmick.”
But Bob Woodward’s new book, The Price of Politics, reports that Boehner adopted a markedly different tone during negotiations of what became the Budget Control Act behind closed doors, offering the OCO savings to the surprise of the Democratic leaders:
The leaders had essentially reached an agreement, but there was still a crucial question that had not been answered. What happened if the supercommittee couldn’t agree on the second $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction? What would be the trigger or enforcement mechanism to make sure $1.2 trillion was cut from spending?
We could use the $1 trillion in imaginary savings from the Overseas Contingency Operations, Boehner and McConnell said. The wars were ending anyway.
Reid was particularly surprised, he had pushed dozens of times to use this OCO money.
“We can never put that in writing,” Boehner said. “but you have our word.” It can never even be talked about, McConnell and Boehner said, never be repeated outside the room.
Reid and Pelosi agreed. Pelosi was happy to use the imaginary money. It was better than more entitlement cuts.
The deal was done.
After the deal was struck, Boehner gave Woodward a different account of the OCO savings, scoffing, “It’s the same old Washington kick the can down the road. But [Reid] thought when it got down to the end, maybe I’d buy it. But I never did buy it.”