In one dramatic moment, Obama called Boehner on Friday morning after learning that the contours of the emerging deal they had reached with Reid in the Oval Office the night before had not been reflected in the pre-dawn staff negotiations. The White House was baffled. The whole package was in peril of falling part.
According to a senior administration official, Obama told Boehner that they were the two most consequential leaders in the United States government and that if they had any hope of keeping the government open, their discussions had to be honored and could not altered by staff. The official described the scene on condition of anonymity to reveal behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Despite the accomplishment, officials noted it marked only a first step. Republicans intend to pass a 2012 budget through the House next week that calls for sweeping changes in Medicare and Medicaid and would cut domestic programs deeply in an attempt to gain control over soaring deficits.
And the Treasury has told Congress it must vote to raise the debt limit by summer — a request that Republicans hope to use to force Obama to accept long-term deficit-reduction measures.
"We know the whole world is watching us today," Reid said earlier in a day that produced incendiary, campaign style rhetoric as well as intense negotiation.
Reid, Obama and Boehner all agreed a shutdown posed risks to an economy still recovering from the worst recession in decades.
But there were disagreements aplenty among the principal players in an early test of divided government — Obama in the White House, fellow Democrats in control in the Senate and a new, tea party-flavored Republican majority in the House.
"Republican leaders in the House have only a few hours left to look in the mirror, snap out of it and realize how positively shameful that would be," Reid said at one point, accusing Republicans of risking a shutdown to pursue a radical social agenda.
For much of the day, Reid and Boehner disagreed about what the disagreement was about.
Reid said there had been an agreement at a White House meeting Thursday night to cut spending by about $38 billion. He said Republicans also were demanding unspecified cuts in health services for lower income women that were unacceptable to Democrats.
"Republicans want to shut down our nation's government because they want to make it harder to get cancer screenings," he said. "They want to throw women under the bus."
Boehner said repeatedly that wasn't the case — it was spending cuts that divided two sides.