"No magic pot of money".
The First Minister took a few blows from opposition leaders during his question time yesterday in the Senedd, but came back fighting this morning in a briefing ahead of a government-convened economic summit.
"There is no magic pot of money" he said. Spending more here would mean even deeper cuts there. And as for those ever louder accusations of Labour 'inaction?' All "part of the huff and puff of politics".
The sense from the people around Carwyn Jones at the time that the draft budget was published in October was that there wouldn't be too much of a problem in getting in through come the final vote in December. With 30 seats out of 60 already in his back pocket, gaining just one more shouldn't be that difficult, surely?
The added windfall of £38.9m extra to spend as he pleased from Westminster as a result of the English council tax freeze, announced barely 24 hours before the budget was published, just added to the sense that negotiation shouldn't be that tough.
No longer. The talks with the opposition parties to secure the extra votes are not going well. A Labour source told me that they're unlikely to get much further until opposition parties are clearer about what it is they want and equally clear about what, therefore, should take more of a squeeze to pay for it. It would help, they added, if Plaid, in particular, were rather more united and agreed on what exactly it is they want. (Update: Plaid's response: "Attempts to deflect attention from Labour's cynical refusal to help the Welsh economy will not distract us.")
On the other side of the fence one senior opposition negotiator told me that Labour appeared to have become fixated that spending the £38.5m the way their party wanted would be more than enough to secure the votes for next year's budget.
But the message to Carwyn Jones from all three opposition leaders is: it ain't that simple mate.
All three want to see actual movement within next year's budget from the current plans - Plaid more money for the enterprise department, the Liberal Democrats for education and the Conservatives for health.
The word from the negotiations is that Labour are very unwilling to unpick their draft budget in any significant way, relying instead on the £38.9m windfall to win support.
But here's what's curious - that £38.9m is money to be spent during THIS financial year, not the next one the draft budget relates to. This was confirmed by government finance officials at the time it was announced.
Yet this morning, Carwyn Jones told journalists that the spending of that money is dependent on a deal for next year's budget:
"I will be announcing shortly how we will use this money to stimulate the economy and complement our long term economic strategy. That announcement depends of course on agreement on the budget."
The question is - why? Is the First Minister really going to sit on the Westminster windfall until one of the opposition parties agrees to back his budget? Unless, of course, the opposition sources are right and that Labour does believe that the £38.9m is the key to striking a deal, and Mr Jones doesn't want to cash in his chips before there's a deal.
When journalists asked this morning what room for manoeuvre Labour had to give concessions to the other parties in next years budget the answer came back - none. The reserves are already maxed out. We're back to that non-existent "magic pot of money." And the budget as it stands "reflects our priorities".
It's really not clear where a deal is going to be struck - and there are four weeks left to do it.
It's not just the opposition that are giving the First Minister a headache either.
There is unrest on the Labour backbenches too. Many of the new intake aren't exactly keen on what they see as an "us and them" culture between Labour ministers and Labour AMs.
Ominously for ministers, the dissent is beginning to crystallise around the looming health service reforms. There are a significant number of Labour AMs who have little chance of - or interest in - ministerial preferment and every intention of ensuring that they're not cast in the position of defending what they would see as the indefensible for their local hospital. Yes, this new group of Labour backbenchers are really "quite political" said a government source this morning ... with just the slightest hint of sigh.
The headaches are starting to mount for Carwyn Jones.