INSIDE THE EPIC POLITICAL BATTLE RESPONSIBLE FOR
AMERICA’S FISCAL CLIFF AND DEBT CEILING CRISISFRONTLINE Presents
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 8 P.M. on PBS
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On the night President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, FRONTLINE takes an in-depth look at the fiscal crisis that divides Washington and continues to threaten to take the nation to the brink of financial collapse.
Based on interviews with key players including Speaker of the House John Boehner, White House adviser Gene Sperling and Obama’s former Chief of Staff William Daley, Cliffhanger investigates how a clash of politics and personalities has led to one of the most bitter high-stakes standoffs in modern American history — a duel at the edge of the”fiscal cliff.”
Airing on Feb. 12 at 8 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), Cliffhanger provides a riveting account of divisions within the Republican Party, including new insights into the struggle between Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor as they took on President Obama and the Democrats over the how to solve the country’s debt and deficit problems.
On one side of this epic battle for control of the GOP is Boehner, an old-school lawmaker with more than two decades of experience cutting D.C. deals. On the other side, a class of 87 freshmen lawmakers who came to Washington after the 2010 midterm election and on the wave of the Tea Party revolution.
“I think the 87 came here with the idea to change Washington,” says former Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA).”There was a tremendous amount of energy when we first got here.”
Many of the freshmen believed Washington needed dramatic change, not bipartisan compromise. As Boehner repeatedly tried to reach a Grand Bargain with the president to deal with the fiscal crisis, many in his own caucus were against him.
“I had members, more conservative members, who just thought that sitting down with the president was a big mistake. I had some more moderate members who thought that this was not going to go well for me,” Boehner tells FRONTLINE.
The opposition inside the GOP was even stronger than Boehner had thought. At one point Boehner’s friend, Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH), even warned him that negotiations with the president could cost him his speakership.
“We sat down and said, ‘You’ve got to pull this back, because you’re way out over your skis. And if you continue down this path, we’re not going to call you speaker anymore, because they’re going to take it from you,’” LaTourette tells FRONTLINE.
Added to the ideological conflict inside the party were personal tensions between Speaker Boehner and the ambitious Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“Congressman Cantor has a little bit of an edge to him that I guess is an acquired taste,” says former White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley.”And there were a few times where he seemed to, if not cut out Boehner, disagree with the speaker.”
The film also chronicles the hard bargaining, and miscalculations, within the White House and Obama proved unable to hold together a deal. As the country lurched towards default in December, 2012, critics accused Obama of claiming an electoral mandate for his positions belied by the realities of Washington.
In the end there would be no Grand Bargain. Instead, the country now faces a growing federal deficit, automatic spending cuts, a battle to keep the federal government operating, and yet another deadline for raising the debt ceiling. And many in Washington say the most important debate to determine the future may be taking place within Boehner’s own caucus.
“The speaker’s party is searching for its soul. Are we the party of government but not quite as big? Are we the party of lower taxes but no control of government? Or ultimately, are we the party of smaller government and greater personal liberty? The caucus is split on this,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) says.
Cliffhanger is produced by Michael Kirk, Jim Gilmore, and Mike Wiser. The director is Michael Kirk. The reporter is Jim Gilmore. The film is written by Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
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