Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will take the lead in entitlement reform talks with Democrats thanks largely to the process by which the fiscal cliff deal came about. It appears that many Republicans think that it strategically benefits them if the process begins in the Senate with Boehner kept in the loop by McConnell.
Speaker Boehner has said he will not negotiate with Obama on a one on one basis anymore.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is poised to play a bigger role in negotiations to reform entitlement programs in the wake of the tax deal he helped forge last week.
Lawmakers see the passage of a bill to extend most of the Bush-era income tax rates and settle the question of estate, capital gains and dividend tax rates as a template for how to move the next installment of deficit reduction.
That would mean moving bipartisan legislation first in the Senate and put McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, in the driver's seat.
"I think he'll play a major role. I think he and Vice President Biden have a good working relationship, and it appears to be one of the few good working relationships that the administration has with members of Congress on the Republican side of the aisle," said former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who was one of McConnell's most trusted advisers and is a columnist for The Hill.
But Gregg said McConnell "is not going to move forward without Boehner participating either directly or indirectly."
Senior Republican aides say McConnell is not looking to supplant Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in deficit-reduction talks but he will play whatever role is necessary to achieve progress.
"He will try to be as productive as he can all the way through," said a senior GOP aide. "If his role takes a different tack, given the circumstances, he's going to do his job. He's not going to walk away."
To my mind, Boehner is a weakened force in the party as well as being toxic from a PR point of view. Unlike Boehner, McConnell enjoys the respect of most of his Senate colleagues.
But McConnell still needs Boehner to pass a deal in the House. Boehner's role won't be reduced as much as it will be less visible - a price he will pay for the many mistakes he's made since the election.