Boehner holds on
It’s no secret that House Speaker John Boehner has been in a tough position for several years, trying to maintain something close to Republican unity in a House divided between GOP pragmatists and tea-party, anti-tax radicals.
Still, he is a crafty politician, and it’s not surprising he retained his job as speaker Thursday, despite the angst by many conservative Republicans over Boehner’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks and the anger from Republicans in the northeast because Boehner delayed a vote on a package of assistance for Hurricane Sandy victims.
According to some political observers, Boehner was willing to take the heat over the Sandy bill in order to reassure tea party types that he wasn’t about to capitulate to President Barack Obama or congressional Democrats on everything, as the anti-tax folks believed he did on the fiscal cliff.
We don’t know if that’s why Boehner delayed the Hurricane Sandy vote until today, but it’s certain that sort of political maneuvering on an important piece of legislation won’t raise the standing of Congress — now at historic lows — in the eyes of most American citizens.
That sort of cynical action aside, we generally respect Boehner and think he has tried admirably to walk a narrow path between compromising with Democrats to achieve needed budget changes and appeasing the right wing of his House membership. Sometimes he has been undercut by both sides.
A year and a half ago, when Boehner was attempting to negotiate a grand bargain with Obama to raise the debt ceiling and to begin to rein in debt, conservative Republicans in the House mutinied over the effort to close tax loopholes. Then President Obama demanded extra spending and the deal fell through.
Last month, Boehner and Obama again came close to a deal on the fiscal cliff, but Boehner apparently walked away from it because of the heat he was feeling from the most conservative members of his caucus.
As a column below notes, that deal would actually have done far more with respect to reducing the debt — which conservatives say they want — than the last-minute deal passed by the House on New Year’s Day, without the support of most conservative Republicans.
In other words, by being so intransigent about tax increases, the conservative Republicans ended up with a measure that still raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans, actually increased the debt instead of decreasing it and did no more to curtail spending than the compromise Boehner and Obama worked out in December.
Boehner has now vowed that he will no longer attempt to negotiate with the president — another bone thrown to the right wing. It’s an unfortunate pledge, but it doesn’t mean he won’t negotiate with Democrats in Congress, which is entirely appropriate.
Still firmly ensconsced as speaker, Boehner will have plenty of opportunity to negotiate with various parties when debate over spending cuts heats up in the coming weeks.