From the Serenity Prayer to F-Bomb: Boehner and the Fiscal Cliff

February 8, 2013

Cliffhanger, FRONTLINE’s investigation inside how Washington has failed to solve the country’s debt and deficit problems, airs Tuesday, February 12, at a special time on the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address. Check your local listings to find out when it will be broadcast on your local station.

On one of the biggest nights of his political career, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t have the votes he needed from his own party. So he gathered House Republicans in a closed-door meeting and led a prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

It was Dec. 20, 2012, just days before the nation would go over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” and the the speaker had just concluded that “Plan B,” his arduously crafted strategy for getting the House to take the lead in solving the crisis, was dead. “There was no one that was more disappointed than I was,” Boehner told FRONTLINE.

Once again, Washington had failed to strike a deal.

In the days that followed, the political climate only further deteriorated. As they waited outside the Oval Office for a meeting with the president, Boehner turned to Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had publicly accused him of caring more about politics than the debt crisis, and told him, “Go fuck yourself.”

It was one of many dramatic twists and turns in the bitter, brutal saga of Washington’s failure to solve the country’s debt and deficit problems. On Tuesday, FRONTLINE takes you inside that drama, exploring the clash of politics and personalities, the hard bargaining and the miscalculations that led to one of the most contentious high-stakes standoffs in modern American history.

Based on interviews with key players including Boehner, White House economic adviser Gene Sperling and Obama’s former Chief of Staff William Daley, the film explores how 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. Check your local listings to find out when Cliffhanger will be broadcast on your local PBS station.

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