Boehner appears helpless at the hands of the tea party

October 8, 2013 

John Boehner knows better. He knows a government shutdown is bad for the economy, bad for the country’s spirit and ultimately bad for his Republican Party, which is diving in public opinion polls. He knows a default on the part of the United States, which will happen Oct. 17 if the country’s debt ceiling is not raised, would be catastrophic, almost certainly creating another recession.

And he surely knows that if that happens, the American people will hold congressional Republicans – and him – responsible. Ultimately, if Boehner fails to get that debt ceiling raised, his party will likely be put out of power for 20 years. Republicans, as least those willing to face reality, already know that the electorate is becoming more diverse and less tied to any ideology, much less one stuck in the 1950s.

That political reality is not as important as the financial one. Another recession would be disastrous given that millions of Americans have not recovered from the last one. The government shutdown already has stirred uncertainty in world financial markets.

So what’s going on? Boehner claims he doesn’t have the votes to get a “clean resolution” ending the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling passed. But there are indications to the contrary, and it seems more House Republicans, at least those not in the tea party minority, are edging toward getting this issue behind them.

Tea party fears

It appears, rather, that Boehner is worried that if he does put the issues to a vote and a resolution is passed, the tea partyers might revolt and cast him out of his speakership or at the least undermine his every move until after the 2014 elections.

So there he stands, appearing inflexible, trying to bargain by saying he won’t think about raising the debt ceiling and ending the shutdown unless President Obama agrees to dismantle the signature achievement of his administration, the Affordable Care Act. The president will not do that, and he should not do that.

The ACA passed both houses of Congress, was signed into law and has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet extreme elements in the Republican Party will not give up. They are determined to destroy the Obama presidency even though he was elected to a second term, proving that the American people supported his policies, including health care reform.

To bring down health care reform – and in their minds the presidency itself – those in the extreme are willing to also bring down the American economy. They are naive in believing that not raising the ceiling won’t be catastrophic. Many are rookies in Congress and don’t know any better. They apparently think this is some kind of game.

Been here before

Boehner, a veteran congressman from Ohio, knows better. He also should know that he can’t pander his way out of this. The tea party members aren’t going to budge no matter what. Likely some if not many will have tough re-elections next year, even in districts gerrymandered by Republicans. The poll numbers, after all, don’t look good and are getting worse.

Boehner knows what happened when Republicans shut down the government under Speaker Newt Gingrich. Polls went down for the GOP, and majorities were lost. Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton exited office with some of the highest approval numbers in polls ever, despite an impeachment.

If the tea partyers do not care to read history, that’s their problem. But Boehner knows better. And President Obama won the day when he challenged Boehner on Monday to bring the debt ceiling issue to a vote, right now. Up or down. Let’s see, the president was saying, just where we stand. Boehner continued to demand compromise from the president.

The crisis will end. But casualties have been suffered. Among them: the credibility of a House speaker who is choosing partisan coddling over statesmanship.

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