Karl Rove’s new Wall Street Journal column is all about House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) “surprising success” so far in 2011. As Rove sees it, Boehner has had a “remarkable run” by having “out-maneuvered” President Obama repeatedly.
Mr. Boehner may not be an inspiring orator, but he has moved the country and Congress in his direction. He has succeeded in large part because he had a more modest view of the post than his recent predecessors. […]
So Washington’s agenda this fall will reflect the priorities not of the glitzy Mr. Obama but of the modest, well-grounded Mr. Boehner.
Rove’s larger point seems to be that Boehner — or at least Boehner’s caucus — is largely dictating the agenda in Washington, and there’s obviously some truth to that. By refusing to compromise, adopting an unyielding right-wing agenda, and normalizing extortion politics, House Republicans have had considerable success, at least insofar as they’re dictating terms and fighting debates on their turf.
But Rove’s column comes across as kind of silly if one stops to think about the larger context.
For all of Rove’s gushing about the Speaker’s “surprising success,” Boehner’s tenure has been a seven-month-long fiasco. The Speaker has routinely struggled to keep his caucus in line behind his leadership, for example, and has found in many key instances that House Republicans simply don’t care what Boehner thinks. Whereas the Speaker traditionally is one of Washington’s most powerful players, Boehner is arguably the weakest Speaker we’ve seen in many decades — he’s not leading an unruly caucus; his unruly caucus is leading him.
Indeed, Rove seems especially impressed that Boehner has blocked White House attempts at additional revenue. What Rove neglects to mention is that Boehner was fully prepared to make an agreement with Obama for additional revenue, only to find that the Speaker’s caucus would forcefully reject the compromise.
What’s more, looking back at Boehner’s “successes,” it’s hard not to notice that Congress hasn’t passed any meaningful legislation at all this year — and in all likelihood, the Speaker will help oversee a Congress in which nothing of significance passes at all.
What have we seen from Boehner’s chamber since January? Five resignations, zero jobs bills, two near-shutdowns, no major legislative accomplishments, and the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt, attributed almost entirely to the antics of Boehner’s Republican caucus.
If Rove finds this impressive, I’m afraid he’s set the bar for “success” much too low.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 25, 2011
Eric Cantor has perfected the strategic sneer.
It comes, frequently, when he answers a reporter’s question about something President Obama has said: The House majority leader’s lip curls up on the left side and a look of disgust washes over his face. This week, he has been coupling the sneer with lines such as:
“How in the world can you even accept that notion?”
And, “That is laughable on its face.”
And, “That doesn’t make sense. . . . That again is just nonsensical.”
And, “Come on — let us think about this.”
Cantor, who is establishing himself as the lead GOP negotiator with the White House as the Aug. 2 default deadline approaches, is answering calls for compromise with contempt. He shook his fist during a news conference Tuesday and said that Obama’s thinking is “unfathomable to me.” To Obama’s complaint that the wealthy are not sharing in the budget sacrifice, he scoffed: “There is plenty of so-called shared sacrifice.” Asked about Obama’s belief that people like him should pay more in taxes, Cantor retorts: “You know what? He can write a check any time he wants.”
He draws out the vowels in a style that is part southern, part smarty-pants. Had young Cantor spoken like this at his prep school in Richmond, the bigger boys may well have wiped that sneer off his face. Yet even then, Cantor was accustomed to having things his way. According to Cantor’s hometown Richmond Times-Dispatch, the quotation he chose to accompany his yearbook photo was “I want what I want when I want it.”
What Cantor wants now is power — and he is prepared to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to get it. In a primacy struggle with House Speaker John Boehner, he has done a deft job of aligning himself with Tea Party House members in opposition to any meaningful deal to resolve the debt. If the U.S. government defaults, it will have much to do with Cantor.
He pulled out of debt-limit talks with Vice President Biden. He shot down the outline of a compromise that Boehner attempted to negotiate. Now Cantor has essentially taken over talks with the White House, and he has tamped down any hint of conciliation.
On Monday, Boehner hinted that he could accept a tax-reform deal that brought “additional revenues to the federal government” — and his spokesman confirmed that the proposal would be “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office as increasing tax revenue. But Cantor was having none of it: “We are not raising taxes, so it has to be net revenue neutral.”
Cantor’s aides say he is merely reflecting his caucus. But Cantor, a veteran of a decade in the Capitol, surely knows that he is jettisoning the last chance in the next couple of years to make a serious dent in the national debt. The White House has so far offered up a tantalizing array of concessions — $4 trillion in budget cuts and overhauls of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – but Cantor has yet to offer anything but sneers.
He flashed the trademark facial expression even before taking his seat at a Monday news conference. Asked whether he would offer any concessions, Cantor responded by saying that the cuts he demanded from the White House were in fact concessions by him, too. “Nobody relishes the opportunity to go and cut these programs,” said the creator of the YouCut Web site that made budget-cutting into an online game. Cantor further said that it was a concession merely to avoid a government default.
The search for a Cantor concession continued. “In terms of shared sacrifice across the country, do you see that one as necessary?”
Cantor swung his arm over his chair back and raised his upper lip. “I think behind this notion of ‘We want shared sacrifice’ that they continue to say means, ‘We want to raise taxes,’ ” he said.
Claiming that there have been “concessions made already” by his side, Cantor was pressed to name some of them. “I don’t want to get into specifics now,” he said.
Leaving a House Republican caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Cantor approached the microphones, flashed the cameras a good-morning sneer and demanded to know “why in the world” Obama wants to increase taxes.
NBC’s Luke Russert asked what “sacred cows” Cantor would be willing to sacrifice. Cantor repeated his denunciation of Obama’s tax policy.
“Where do the Republicans feel pain here, though?” Russert persisted.
After a long and contemptuous day, the majority leader probably feels it most in his upper lip.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 12, 2011
What happens when you take the certainty of an ideologue, mix in an unhealthy dose of economic illiteracy, shameless demagoguery, and bring the combustible mix to a boil on the national stage? Quite possibly national default and a new recession.
The nature of this mix—and the corner into which GOP leaders have painted themselves—is neatly illustrated in the latest poll numbers from The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.
As the Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake note today:
The data suggests that those who identify as Republicans who are supportive of the tea party not only view themselves as far more educated than the average person on the current debt debate, but are also far more worried about the impact if the debt limit is increased.
More than eight in 10 tea party supporters (81 percent) said they understand “what would happen if the government does not raise the federal debt limit” — far more than the 55 percent of all respondents who said the same thing.
Three quarters of tea party supporters said that they were more concerned that raising the debt ceiling would “lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger,” while just 19 percent said they were more worried that “not raising the debt limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation’s economy.”
The message from the numbers? Tea party backers simply don’t believe that not raising the debt limit by Aug. 2 is all that big a deal — and they feel that way because they believe they understand the issue inside and out.
If a significant chunk of his House members don’t fear the consequences of a default, it’s very difficult for Boehner to make the case for the fierce urgency of now in the debt debate.
While the overwhelming number of economists—and even prominent non-economists like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who have both stated that not raising the debt ceiling is unthinkable—say that failure to raise the debt ceiling could have a host of nasty consequences for the economy, like a global financial crisis, downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, and a second recession … the Tea Party crowd has anointed itself a group of experts who know better.
This is why Eric Cantor could with a (presumably) straight face argue yesterday that the GOP’s great concession in this debate was considering a debt ceiling increase at all. But sorry, our base is too wound up in its own misconceptions to allow us to do the slam dunk right thing for the county is the politics of cowardice. And it’s a brand that Cantor, who has referred to the debt ceiling crisis as a “leverage moment”—an opportunity for the GOP to extract concessions in order to be forced to do the right thing—has played with either cold cynicism or reckless stupidity.
Then there’s Boehner, who acknowledges the debt ceiling must be raised but cloaks it in the language of Obama getting “his” rise in the debt ceiling—as if keeping the country from an economic disaster is some parochial, partisan, hobby.
No less a publication than The Economist, hardly a hotbed of socialist foment, recently called the GOP position “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.” I think that’s about right.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, July 12, 2011
I confess that I have often picked on, made fun of, and generally disparaged Speaker of the House John Boehner only to now find myself feeling a measure of remorse for having done so.
It turns out that Speaker Boehner may be the only semi-reasonable man left in the Republican Party.
Yes, I know that Boehner has himself to blame for the role he played in opening the doors of Congress to the unyielding and unreasonable Members swept into office by the Tea Party rebellion in 2010. Yes, Boehner has spent far too many years cozying up to Wall Street and protecting the interests of big business at the expense of the middle class.
And just in case you’re wondering, I have not forgotten that John Boehner has long been quick to condemn the White House for the jobs crisis while doing absolutely nothing to assist in creating policy that would help solve the problem. Boehner has been a continuing impediment to growing American jobs by working with Obama on infrastructure legislation or any other valuable stimulus that could make a big difference for the many who are suffering from extended unemployment.
Still, you have to admit that it sucks to be John Boehner.
Imagine if you had to make decisions regarding the successful operation of your own home and your three year old, five year old and two year old each had a full vote in the decisions that are ultimately taken.
Say it’s time to buy the new family car. The two eldest of the three kids decide that the only sensible vehicle to purchase would be an ice cream truck filled to the top with Good Humor ice cream bars and, as an added option, comes with the happy song that streams from the scratchy PA system perched on the roof.
From the point of view of children of such an age, this choice makes total sense.
Yet, when the grown-ups must point out that such a purchase would neither be practical nor in the best interest of the family and cast their votes for a new, American made family minivan, it is left to the two year old to break the tie.
That can’t be good.
Welcome to John Boehner’s world – a world where he is the leader of a cadre of children who have yet to mature to the point where they warrant election to the post of school hall monitor let alone the halls of Congress.
As David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column earlier this week complaining about the GOP’s inability to just say yes to a good deal on the deficit-
That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.” Via New York Times
I don’t know about your experience, but what Brooks describes sounds an awful lot like my own kids before they were old enough to reason and make adult decisions.
If these immature Members of Congress were not enough of a problem for an old school deal maker like Boehner, the Speaker has to contend with a scheming GOP Majority Leader in Eric Cantor who waits behind every door with a dagger aimed squarely at his boss’s heart.
I wouldn’t bet against Cantor’s ultimate success in playing Brutus to Boehner’s Caesar as the Speaker remains caught between a Ba-rack and a Tea Party with nowhere to turn to get out of the mess.
Speaker Boehner knows the debt ceiling must be raised and has been willing to publicly say so as recently as this morning. He also knows that Congress must take great care to do nothing to further stifle the struggling economy just as he realizes all too well that he will need Democratic votes to get whatever deal he cuts with the President through the House as he won’t be able to count on his own Members.
This leaves Boehner to walk an impossible line between doing what he believes is necessary for the nation he is charged with governing and those who would ride the country into the ground in order to protect wealthy industries from losing a few unnecessary tax subsidies or, even worse, support keeping the economy mired in quicksand in order to better evict Barack Obama from the White House.
E.J. Dionne summed it up this way –
I’d actually feel bad for Boehner — an old-fashioned sort who’d normally reach for a deal — if he and his party had not shamelessly stoked the Tea Party to win power. The GOP is now reaping the whirlwind, and Boehner may be forced to choose between his country and his job. Via Washington Post
Unlike Dionne, I actually do feel badly for Boehner as he tries to make a deal and still hold onto his job. And I will feel more than badly for the entire nation should we find ourselves with Eric Cantor sitting in the seat of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Whether you sympathize with the man or, like Dionne, believes he is just getting what’s coming to him, you have to to agree on one thing -
It truly does suck to be John Boehner.
By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, July 8, 2011