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

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    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.