Boehner’s got a tough hand to play if he wants to survive as Speaker


    As I game out the probable final week of the debt crisis, Democrats again seem to have gained the upper hand politically, at least for right now, thanks to the idiocy and intransigence of the Tea Party.

    I am not discussing the wisdom of competing policies here. The fact is that the policy options currently under discussion are all bad, and I have given up hope of our government actually formulating and agreeing upon a coherent economic policy.

    But the politics matter – a lot. And, if you’ll forgive my mixing a metaphor, in the ever-shifting landscape of the debt ceiling conflict, the tide seems to have shifted in favor of Obama and the Democrats.

    In short, it is now tough to see a scenario in which Boehner survives as Speaker and the GOP is able to avoid a civil war in which the Tea Party and the Establishment Republican factions fight for control of the party once that leadership vacuum emerges.

    The only thing that can get in the way of this result now is if Senate Democrats and Obama screw it up and cave into Tea Party demands for passage of the dishonestly-named “Balanced Budget Amendment” in exchange for raising the debt ceiling (I hope, in a separate post, to address the importance for Obama, for the sake of both the country and his own political future, to hang tough at this juncture.)

    (more on the flip)

    John Boehner, and the Republican Party’s, predicament, is that as long as Democrats do not cave, there appear to only four (possibly five) reasonable possibilities with respect to the outcome of the proposed two-step plan for raising the debt ceiling being pushed by Boehner, known (oddly enough) as the Boehner Plan, and while each possibility takes a different path, they all seem to inexorably lead to the same place.

    According to news reports, leadership was frantically whipping the vote for the Boehner Plan, but it remains unclear whether it will gather the necessary 217 Republican votes it needs to pass (although as I write this, the Boehner Plan has been delayed based on CBO scoring that shows it cut less than advertised, so it may not even make it to the House Floor).

    In any event, if the Boehner Plan makes it to a vote and it fails to pass, Boehner is done as Speaker. There is a term for a Speaker of the House who is unable to deliver his caucus in a critical vote upon which his reputation and credibility depends — it is “Former Speaker of the House.”

    Even if the Boehner Plan manages to squeak by in the House, it is slated to die in the Senate. The current plan calls for Senate Democrats to amend the House bill containing the Boehner plan to replace it with Reid’s plan, and send it back to the House, or, alternatively, Senate Republicans may try to kill this move with a filibuster or other procedural device. Either way, this, in turn, creates a new dilemma for Boehner.

    He can let the House vote on the Reid plan, which would likely pass with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes. The Tea Party will howl.

    Alternatively, Boehner can refuse to bring the amended bill to a vote (or if the Senate bill is successfully blocked), and instead seek a settlement with Reid on a compromise plan, but to what end? The Tea Party rejected the Boehner Plan, and will surely rebel at any compromise. Either way, Boehner cannot survive as Speaker.

    The only way, it seems, that Boehner can save himself is by simply adopting the Tea party platform lock, stock and barrel and insist there will be no deal unless the Congress agrees to pass CCB, in the hope that Pelosi, Reid and Obama will fold in the face of such hostage taking.

    If Democrats do not fold, there will be a great deal of economic dislocation, and probably another recession. There will probably be a stock market crash, and while the carnage in the bond market will probably be slower, it will, over time, be more brutal and corrosive to economic expansion. It will suck.

    If that happens, the public is primed to blame the GOP. Between the anger of Democrats and Independents, and the internal warfare that could erupt within the GOP, 2012 could be a bad year for them. If so, then hopefully we can finally begin the long climb out of the hole that Republicans, beginning with George Bush’s economic mismanagement and ending with this most recent debacle, will have dug for us.

    Now, this all being said, there are two other possibilities as to how this can play out.

    First, the parties can agree on an increase to give them an additional 3-4 weeks to negotiate and fight, with the idea that as public opinion hardens and shifts on the issue, a political solution will present itself.

    Second, Boehner might come to realize that his situation is hopeless, and rather than trying to strike a deal that allows him to continue as Speaker, decides to actually do what he thinks is right for the country. That could result in Boehner and Obama revisiting the grand bargain.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Isn’t it more than passing strange that a decision on which rests the economic health of the nation is being held hostage to lunatic teabaggers and inept GOPer House leadership. The easiest way for Americans to change this situation is to vote the Democrats back into control of the House. Sadly, we don’t have the ability to wait until sanity reigns again in DC. When GOPers won’t even listen to the Chamber of Commerce, times are perilous indeed.

    • Say What

      How all of this has been “handled”, “hassled”, “haggled” …. has been deplorable at best (no news here). It’s been so bizarre that one would have to go way back in history to find anything comparable. So I wonder if it can even be “gamed”.

      There is a lot of talk about bluffing & blinking. I would like to think that the President & staff saw & studied this Tea Party phenomena for what it was and is playing out (a great game) a plan that forces a collapse of these Republican Ideologues …. but I just don’t think our (or theirs) side is that clever.

      It seems this is clearly a CLASH of historic proportions over good governance vs. NO GOVERNANCE. This is a clash between the mythology of Reagan “Government is the problem” and FDR’s vision of basic decency (Social Security).

      Default on the Debt as an issue has provided a singular focal point to the above … however from a market standpoint (AAA bond ratings & such) it’s already taken its toll and likely to get worse.

      If the Democratic Party, led by President Obama stands firm for its principals of protecting (or at least supporting) those who are less well off & connected … then 2012 could be a pivotal year for progress (and progressives??).

      As for the Republican Party … asked your friends or co-workers … do they really call themselves Republicans???  Are they really on board with the Cantors, Limbaughs and Norquests of this world?? Reasonable people are not!!

      Reasonable people will act when they see their life savings & prospects for a better future evaporate along with the stocks & bonds market.

      Democrats need to have CLEAR & EXECUTABLE PLAN in place for good governance …. as the Republicans self-destruct. In the mean time … for the country’s sake … Obama should be boning up on the use of the 14th Amendment to solve this lack of governance from those strict Constitutionalist …. the Tea-baggers.

    • aznew

      The latest word is that the GOP leadership is whipping the vote furiously so as not to embarrass Boehner. Many of the Tea Party freshmen are said to be coming around to supporting it, so it might make the 217 hurdle.

      To what end? Approval of the Boehner plan in this manner will simply exacerbate the GOP’s political problem. As I wrote above, even if the Boehner Plan squeaks by, the Senate has made clear it will fail there without a single Democratic vote.

      After that, Boehner will either have to go back to his caucus with a compromise version of the bill worked out with Reid that I can only imagine will not be acceptable to a majority of the Republicans in the House, but able to pass the House with Democratic votes.

      That leaves Boehner in the unenviable position of either (1) Helping the economy avoid a calamity and the U.S. avoid a downgrade by binging the bill to the floor, ticking off one-third of his caucus in the process; or (2) refusing to bring to the floor the only bill that can pass both houses and be signed by the President, thereby personally and obviously becoming responsible for whatever economic havoc follows (and if this week is any indication, the stock market could get very, very ugly if no del is struck).

      Either way, Boehner will have forced the tea party members in his caucus to take a very tough vote without any hope of tangible success in achieving their goals. If I were them, I would be very angry when this becomes clear Sunday or Monday.

      I almost feel bad for the guy — after all, I believe his preference actually was to reach a so-called “grand bargain” it Obama. But in the end, in an effort to save his Speakership he threw is lot in with the hostage takers.

      But in the end, he is effectively done as Speaker. I hope, once he realizes this he does what is best for the country (To the extent it provides him any solace, Boehner will at least be in a position to deny the Speakership to Eric “Et Tu” Cantor as payback for his disloyalty.

      Yes, it looks like Obama will give up a lot, even in the Reid deal — all expense cuts, no taxes. But, Progressives should chill on this — this is only the result of a battle, not of the war.

      Social Security and Medicare are relatively safe for now, and the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012 anyway, giving Obama and Democrats tremendous leverage for future negotiations. Given that, I think the political victory, to the extent it will help Obama and the Democrats attract independents and isolate the tea part for purposes of the general election in 2012, is much more important at this point in time than pushing through hasty, inadequate and ill-considered tax reform just to make

      Democrats feel better for the next few months.