What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: "At one point several weeks ago," Mr. Boehner says, "the president said to me, 'We don't have a spending problem.' "

I am talking to Mr. Boehner in his office on the second floor of the Capitol, 72 hours after the historic House vote to take America off the so-called fiscal cliff by making permanent the Bush tax cuts on most Americans, but also to raise taxes on high earners. In the interim, Mr. Boehner had been elected to serve his second term as speaker of the House. Throughout our hourlong conversation, as is his custom, he takes long drags on one cigarette after another.