These were the words of the second in line to the Presidency as the deadline for the sequester neared: “We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.”
In a situation which bordered on the surreal, where draconian cuts—which were never intended to come into effect—were, in fact, set to come into effect, Speaker of the House John Boehner, weighted down with the stress of the moment, had what could only be described as a public political psychotic break.
Faced with the pressure of a self-inflicted doomsday deadline—because, don’t forget, the Republican-controlled House voted for the sequester as a mechanism to force a compromise on spending and taxes—and faced with a caucus which increasingly didn’t listen to him, he blamed the Senate for failing to act on two bills passed in the House to avoid the sequester.
Of course, he failed to mention certain salient facts. Firstly, the bills passed in the House were never going to pass the Democratically controlled Senate, and certainly never going to survive a presidential veto. Secondly, and more importantly, those “fixes” were passed in the previous Congress. They were dead letters, as pertinent to the realities of the new Congress as flat-earth theory to modern astrophysics. Mr. Boehner was putting forth a position which he should have known, as Speaker of the House, had no bearing on the current situation. The Senate had to pass the Violence Against Women Act again in the new session because the bill it passed in the previous Congress lapsed due to inaction by the GOP-led House. Not only wouldn’t the Senate pass the House bill on avoiding sequester; it couldn’t; the bills had expired, and new legislation was needed. And, thirdly, all spending bills have to pass the House first. The idea that it was incumbent upon the Senate to do the House’s work for it is something new in American politics. One branch of the legislature has, seemingly, abdicated all responsibility for legislating, merely waiting for the other body to take all the work upon itself.
It’s little secret that Mr. Boehner wished to possess the Speaker’s gavel as he rose in the ranks of Republican leadership, surviving the infighting and occasional purges. A man who came out relatively unscathed from the Tom Delay era had reason to think that bigger things were ahead of him. And in 2010, due to a hissy fit on the part of too many Democrats and “independents”, Mr. Boehner was handed the culmination of his dreams. He would, finally, ascend to the summit of his vision, the Speakership of the House of Representatives.
There was still the inconvenient fact that Barack Obama was President, and that, despite a climate which should have made a Republican takeover of the Senate a sure thing, the GOP base elected candidates which were unelectable in general elections. The Democrats were able to maintain a slim majority in the Senate. The result was a desultory stalemate, pointing to the great battle of 2012.
Surely, with an economy which wasn’t performing optimally, and a Senate battleground map which favored the GOP, a Republican sweep was in the offing. All they had to do was to avoid offending anyone.
But the problem with the modern GOP is that it’s constituted to offend nearly anyone not part of its base. From Todd Akin’s comments on rape to Mitt Romney’s comments on the “47%”, the GOP inflicted upon itself wound upon wound. And its Obama Derangement Syndrome blinded it to the fact that Barack Obama was head and shoulders above its own flawed candidate for President. As in 2010, base Republican voters nominated candidates for Senate who had no chance of winning in a statewide election. Democrats not only held on to their majority in the Senate, but expanded it. And the GOP margin in the House decreased by seven seats. The only reason Republicans held onto control of the House was through gerrymandering; Democrats won the popular vote for the House by more than a million votes. The last election was, all in all, a clear repudiation of Republican ideology.
Poor John Boehner. He kept his great attainment, but it was an empty chalice. He was, if anything, stripped of power. He knows that gerrymandering will work for only so long; the 2014 elections, with the active participation of President Obama’s OFA, are starting to shape up as a replay of 2006. His nemesis was re-elected in authoritative fashion, and his own caucus is fracturing between the plutocratic-but-somewhat-sane faction and the libertarian, Tea Party true believers. Three times in the past three months Mr. Boehner has had to jettison the revered “Hastert Rule”, where a bill could be moved in a GOP House only if it had the assent of the majority of the majority. Nothing of import can move in the House without Nancy Pelosi’s assent, a fact which sticks a dagger further into Mr. Boehner’s heart.
Why did Mr. Boehner pursue the Speakership so doggedly for so many years? Was it just something he felt was owed to him? He’s not very good at his job; his main purpose—to take care of the people who bankroll the Republican Party—is stymied by the Usurper in the White House, who has expertly detailed to the voters exactly for whom the Republicans work. Republican self-identification is at an all time low—an amazing fact, considering all the vitriol aimed at President Obama and the Democrats by the right wing media. The Republican message is dying, and John Boehner is woefully placed to resuscitate it.
The tragedy of John Boehner is that he’s overmatched for the times. He’s playing a role for which he is unprepared. He was counting on a Republican president and a Republican Senate so that he wouldn’t have to do much work. He’s still not doing much work, but now that fact is out in the open, without the cover of the White House and Senate. He’s a farcical character, directing expletives at the Senate, when he has no control over the body he supposedly runs. The problem is that he may not realize that he’s a farce, and can still do some real damage as he attempts to save face; all he cares for is that he not look the fool; but in his attempts to appear relevant, he merely exposes his irrelevancy, meanwhile doing real damage to the country. The sooner he’s sent off to a comfortable retirement, the better for the Republic.