WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) brief flirtation with ending some federal subsidies for oil companies may have made for good fodder for Democrats. But it also obscured what officials inside and outside the White House feel is a much more important and potentially advantageous admission made by the Ohio Republican in that same interview.
Speaking to ABC News on Monday, Boehner appeared to endorse the fundamental Democratic Party frame that solving the deficit crisis will involve increasing revenues to the government.
"We're in a time when the federal government is short on revenues," Boehner said in the interview. "We need to control spending but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving."
That line of reasoning is a deep departure from what Boehner and his GOP colleagues have been pushing throughout the course of the deficit debate. Michael Steel, the Speaker's top spokesperson, even issued a follow-up statement to the interview, saying "the Speaker has said... a million times" that "Washington doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem."
And yet, the initial comment was enough to convince Democrats that they have a political opening. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney -- after needling Boehner for his oil subsidies remark -- subtly pointed out that the Speaker "also expressed a sentiment that we think is very important, where he said that we have a revenue shortage, the federal government has a revenue shortage, which is... I think a recognition of what the President has been saying."
Karen Finney, the Democratic National Committee's former Communications Director, called Boehner's revenue admission "a big deal."
"Their argument for the last couple of months had been that Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, then he reverses himself and says we need to increase revenues," she emailed The Huffington Post. "The GOP has lost all credibility on fiscal issues."
Finney went on to argue that Boehner's statement would cost his party credibility among the conservative base that brought the GOP to power. But that argument likely misses or overstates the point. It's telling, after all, that the White House pounced on Boehner's oil subsidies line -- blasting out a letter about it to Congressional leaders -- while leaving his revenue admission largely untouched. The administration would love to work with him on the latter, something that isn't likely to happen if they chide him about it like they did with the former.