(Updated) STAMFORD—U.S. House Speaker John Boehner headlined the annual Prescott Bush dinner Saturday in Stamford in his first public appearance since making a last-minute budget deal with Democratic leaders at the White House on Friday night to avoid shutting down the federal government.
But Boehner refused to take much credit for his effort. He said he always knew the chances for a government shutdown were “zero.”
“The goal is not to shut down the government. The goal is to cut spending in Washington, D.C.,” Boehner said. He argued that the deal that was struck Friday accomplishes that by cutting $38.5 billion in spending this year, which is $78 billion less than President Barack Obama had proposed. The details of the bill are not yet available.
But it was a negotiated deal and not everyone got what they wanted, including the Democrats and members of Boehner’s caucus focused on social issues like abortion. For months, Republicans have been trying to cut Environmental protections and Planned Parenthood funding, even though no federal funding goes toward abortions.
“Some of my colleagues want me to throw fire out of my mouth. Some of them want me to rant and rave and that’s just not who I am. I’m pretty upfront, straightforward and what you see is what you get,“ Boehner said.
Boehner said he’s already looking forward to a longer term budget deal and will refuse to agree to increasing the debt limit as Obama has suggested. Unless it’s in exchange for something, “really, really big attached to it,” he added.
Boehner did not take any questions from the media and was escorted out after his 18-minute speech.
Saturday’s was his first public appearance since a government shutdown was prevented, and Boehner admitted he was a little tired from the lack of sleep over the past few days. But he wasn’t too tired to tell a few stories from the past few hectic days at the capital.
Boehner told the more than 550 Connecticut Republicans that he was at the White House on Thursday evening with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It was around 9 p.m.
“Now I go to bed at 10 o’clock and so does Harry Reid,” Boehner said as the crowd chuckled. “And the last thing we wanted to do was be in the Oval Office haggling over how we were going to solve this budget impasse.”
He said the meeting was going along well, and it was beginning to break up when “jovial, never-says-a nasty-word Joe Biden jumps up and says, ‘Well I think we’ve had enough of this. I think we ought to just set it down and let the American people decide.’
“I looked over at Joe and said, ‘Joe what the hell is that?” Boehner recalled. He said Biden feigned moral outrage and must have thought he was going to buy the act.
“He must have forgotten I grew up with 11 brothers and sisters and my dad owned a bar,” Boehner said. “I’ve seen this act before.”
“Don’t ever take my easy going nature for lack of resolve to deal with the issues we’re dealing with,” Boehner said. He meant that both as a message to the Tea Party members in his own caucus and the White House.
Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also spoke at the dinner and pledged his support to Connecticut promising they would receive money from the party unlike in previous years.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, who received the 2011 Prescott Bush award, was escorted to the dinner by his 91-year-old father and his mother whose age he refused to give reporters. He said he was thrilled to be sharing a stage with Boehner.
As Republicans dined inside at the $250-per-person dinner, protesters gathered down the street from the Stamford Hilton.
John Olsen, president of the AFL-CIO, thinks Democrats in Washington didn’t get what they bargained for when they announced a deal that averted a last-minute government shutdown.
He argued that the debate over the budget wasn’t about spending, because no defense spending was cut.
“Tell me you hate it, but don’t tell me it’s about spending,“ Olsen said.
Olsen and a group of protesters gathered on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and South State Street in order to express their discontent with Republicans who were gathering at the Stamford Hilton blocks away for the annual Prescott Bush dinner.
Joining Olsen was Mary Elia, from the Alliance of Retired Americans, who said she was concerned about what the greater budget deal that cuts $39 billion may mean for the next generation.
“I might sneak out without being hurt too much, but what about the next generation?“ Elia said.
She said she’s concerned about the proposal to turn Medicare into a block grant program and any discussion of privatizing Social Security.
“Republicans are now being twisted and turned by the Tea Party folks,” Elia said.
She said she doesn’t understand how so many people can vote against their own best interests.
One of the protesters was holding a sign that says “GOP Hates Women.” The sign caused a passing motorist to shout, “GOP hates abortionists.” Olsen laughed after the car passed because its license plate was from Virginia, not Connecticut.
But there are some in the Republican Party, which also believe the social issues which held up a budget deal should be abandoned.
Jayme Stevenson, a Republican member of the Darien Board of Selectman, used her time at the podium Saturday to talk about how the GOP should abandon the social issues. In doing so she said it could get more women to join the party.
The comments from Stevenson caused Joe Visconti, a member of the Tea Party, to storm out of the room yelling, “Are you hearing this shit?”
Democratic Party Executive Director Eric Hyers, who was not at the protest, sent out a statement criticizing Boehner for his brief appearance in the Nutmeg state.
“Unbelievable. Less than 24 hours after holding the government hostage in an attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood, Speaker Boehner is raising campaign funds behind closed doors,” Hyers said. “Thank you CT voters for rejecting his candidates last November in every district in the state. The last thing America needs is more votes for the Republicans’ far-right ideological agenda.”
U.S. Rep. John Larson was equally as harsh as Hyers saying, “Last night, Republicans took the nation to the brink, not over deficits, but over a social agenda; impeding economic recovery and boasting that this is just the start of what they want to do. Their next target: Medicare, Social Security, and working families.”