Boehner is Trapped by His Caucus

December 21st, 2011 at 1:09 pm | 46 Comments |

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An old joke heard often in the Southwest ends this way: “It isn’t always your enemies that get you into it; it isn’t always your friends who get you out of it; but, when you are in it up to your neck, keep your damned mouth shut.”

Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner’s predicament confirms again the truism above.

The rebellion of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in the House has once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Two weeks ago we wrote that inclusion of the Keystone XL pipeline language in the “payroll tax cut” bill had been a neat bit of jiu-jitsu that gave Congressional Republicans at least a chance to stop their erosion in public opinion polls. We neglected to take into account two things: theology and acting out.

Einstein once wrote: “Only two infinite things exist: the universe and stupidity. And, I am unsure of the universe.”

To summarize: apparently Boehner on behalf of his caucus made a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance for long-term unemployed, and reversal of an impending 27% cut in reimbursement under Medicare for health care providers. The Senate passed the bill, 89-10, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid closed down shop for the year.

Conventional wisdom, and apparently the Speaker, forecast passage of the bill in the House. Both were wrong.

The damage to the Republican brand is profound. Tax cuts, energy independence, good-paying jobs was a message that had started resonating for the GOP. Pressure for quicker approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and its promise of another real step toward independence from oil from the Middle East began to divide the Democratic Party. Keeping Medicare reimbursement at current levels removed a possible attack line in 2012 campaign advertising. Unemployment Insurance expiration will only apply to the long-term unemployed, but the room for mis-understanding, reinforced once again by campaign messages, is huge.

Let’s see: “Republicans support a tax increase on working men and women, but refuse to increase taxes on billionaires.” “Republicans cut Medicare spending 27 per cent, forcing many doctors and hospitals to refuse Medicare patients.” “Republicans deny help to Americans laid off from their jobs.” You can conjure up the visuals accompanying those kinds of headlines.

The Hill ran a major story Monday on its front page about the Boehner tenure. One of the tenets of the story was, “His colleagues say his biggest triumph lies in having kept the GOP conference united” in opposing the culture of spending. That reminds us of how Custer kept his troops united in opposing the Indians at Little Big Horn.

At the beginning of this year, we wrote that the Speaker had the worst job in town. Some of his leadership team seemed undependable. He had 87 new members, most of whom didn’t know budget authority from outlays, but wanted to cut the deficit. He had more than his share of new members who had almost no stake nor interest in making Congress work. Indeed, some of them said that they way to change Washington, D.C., was to raze Washington, D.C. They bragged that they had no interest in being re-elected. Some of them believed, almost as a matter of theology, that they were “The Elect.”

Just like the “Progressive Left” has paralyzed the Democratic House caucus, the new Republicans have frozen Congress. It doesn’t work … and both extremes are happy with that.

We hear often that the Speaker should simply find enough Democrats to pass controversial legislation, and leave about 80 or so House Republicans out in the cold. Only one problem exists with that notion: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has absolutely no inclination to lobby her caucus to support any Republican initiative. The old saying goes like this: “When your enemy is knotting his own noose, leave him alone.” Pelosi has watched, probably with something between astonishment and amusement.

Seven continuing resolutions for appropriations, a downgrade by a major rating agency of American sovereign debt, three trips to the brink of serious government disruption—this legacy may well haunt many Republicans in November, 2012. Many of the newcomers were elected by less than 55 per cent in 2010, one of the best Republican years in more than a half century. Many were elected because of unusual turnout, very high enthusiasm among soft Republicans and independents, and the failure of younger and minority voters to turn up at the polls as they had in 2008. Apparently, these newcomers believed that every turnout on election days would resemble November, 2010. In 1980, Republicans won the Senate for the first time in decades. In 1986, every single one of those first-term Republicans lost except one.

As Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a serious and thoughtful Senator, said on CNBC this morning: “This has been awful,” when he was asked about the impact of the House GOP fiasco. We suspect that that judgment holds sway in the office of the Speaker this morning. In Politico this morning, Manu Raju and John Bresnahan write of the silence of Senate Minority Leader McConnell as this all unfolds. Most often, such silence speaks volumes.

A final note: alongside the theologians in both parties stand House members who believe that “if I can’t get my way, I will just throw a tantrum and vote no on everything.” Counselors who deal with teenagers often call similar behavior “acting out.” Republicans will argue, correctly, that Democrats do that, too. Here’s the difference—you are in the majority in the House. It’s your job to get the basics done at least.

Poor John Boehner, surrounded by too many members who “believe” and too many who “rebel.” He probably yearns for a few more who will help him govern.

Recent Posts by Steve Bell



46 Comments so far ↓

  • Dex

    “Pressure for quicker approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and its promise of another real step toward independence from oil from the Middle East began to divide the Democratic Party.”

    The Keystone pipeline takes oil from Canada and transports it to a refinery in a duty-free zone in the Gulf of Mexico so that it can be shipped to Brazil and Europe. Bypassing refineries in the Midwest along the way.

    So how does that contribute to our energy independence?

    Mr Bell, you can’t contribute to the rehab of the Republican Party unless you clean up your own act first.

    Stop. Peddling. Bull. Shit.

    • CautiousProgressive

      Not all of that oil is bound for Brazil and Europe. Some will end up in America.

      Also, do not discount the value of using the pipeline as leverage in diplomatic negotiations. As long as the pipe passes through America, we have the power to shut it down. Once “Brazil and Europe” start using that flow of oil, then they will go to considerable lengths to ensure that America continues to allow it to flow.

      • balconesfault

        As long as the pipe passes through America, we have the power to shut it down.

        I suspect there would be serious consequences under NAFTA were the US to arbitrarily shut down the pipeline once the crude starts flowing, for anything short of a potential major ecological disaster.

      • Dex

        CP, why bypass refineries in Chicago and the Midwest in favor of a refinery 1,000 miles further south? Well, because that refinery is in a free-trade zone and so its product can be exported without one thin dime going to the Treasury.

        Not only will Keystone do nothing for our energy independence: as it is currently designed, it will lead to HIGHER gas prices in the midwest:
        http://www.startribune.com/opinion/otherviews/117832183.html

        • paul_gs

          The refineries in the Midwest are already operating at capacity while the ones on the coast aren’t. With the pipeline, all the refineries can operate at capacity.

          And no, the oil is not for export, that is simply a fake talking point of the green zealots.

        • Dex

          One, that is a “fact” which you just made up.
          Two, if your “fact” were true, then let the market work its magic and have free enterprise expand the capacity of those refineries, rather than use eminent domain to force 1,000 extra miles of pipeline on private citizens.

          Let me put it this way: I support Keystone building whatever, wherever – but they have to do it by negotiating directly with the land owners. No recourse to government force.

        • paul_gs

          Dex, you’re the one peddling the lie that the oil is exclusively for export. What an absurd claim like all the others the anti-jobs crowd has made about the pipeline.

        • paul_gs

          I like this map of pipelines in NA.

    • Reflection Ephemeral

      (deleted, was meant to be stand-alone, not a reply)

    • fgtayl01

      Keystone pipeline does take oil to the Midwest. It already exist.

      The Keystone XL is a proposed extension. This pipeline will result in layoffs of crude oil transport truckers replaced by the pipe. That’s a cost of efficiency.

      But the politics of ‘a real step toward’ energy independence and ‘job creation’ is just politics. Fund raiser fodder. Not to be confused with reality.

    • paul_gs

      No, the oil from the Keystone XL pipeline is not destined to be shipped overseas. That is simply one of the (many) green lies told about the pipeline.

      • Dex

        One, that is a “fact” which you just made up.
        Two, if your “fact” were true, then explain the amazing coincidence that the pipeline bypasses any number of other refineries in order to end at one in a free-enterprise zone, which the output can be exported without paying any duties. Anticipating you’ll supply another made up “fact” to the effect that is the only refinery with capacity, perhaps you can figure out why that one single refinery has its capacity expanded whereas the others outside of free-enterprise zones did not.

        Is the light bulb beginning to light up yet???

        • paul_gs

          Dex, I don’t have all day to educate someone as misinformed as you. But you really should try to learn to do a little independent thinking and self-education before posting your nonsense on such subjects.

          The pipeline bypasses refineries already operating at full capacity. The oil goes to coastal refineries that used to process Venezuelan and Mexican crude. This crude was then sold into the vast US market. Keystone oil replaces that oil.

          Some folks are so gullible. I thought the Left was supposed to be intelligent.

  • Volosopher

    Let’s see: “Republicans support a tax increase on working men and women, but refuse to increase taxes on billionaires.” “Republicans cut Medicare spending 27 per cent, forcing many doctors and hospitals to refuse Medicare patients.” “Republicans deny help to Americans laid off from their jobs.” You can conjure up the visuals accompanying those kinds of headlines.

    All of which would, of course, be true. Mainstream GOP’ers such as the Speaker voiced no audible complaints about the Tea Party when they were using TP momentum to win back Congress. They made their bed, now they’re forced to lie in it. Good.

  • balconesfault

    Just like the “Progressive Left” has paralyzed the Democratic House caucus

    Except that this never happened.

    For example – had the Progressive Left paralyzed the Dem House caucus, the ACA would never have passed. Pelosi would have asked progressives to support the Senate measure without the public option so that the bill would not have to risk another filibuster in the Senate once Brown was seated … the Progressive Left would have balked … and we’d be waiting another 30 years for a shot at healthcare reform.

    The Progressive Left has also been willing to support measures that would have cut entitlements in tandem with tax increases on the wealthy.

    I am increasingly convinced that many on the right just really don’t pay attention to anything but the Fox News spin on current events.

    • sweatyb

      +1

    • Saladdin

      My thoughts exactly. I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that line. Actually, I thought the Dems had more issues with Moderates and Conservatives than with Liberals.

    • Traveler

      Just more talking points and false equivalency. Same for Keystone. Typical for Bell and the vast majority of columnists here. Normally I quit at BS, but rest of article was better. Enjoyable to read a POGer castigate his own representatives. The popcorn is great.

  • Lonewolf

    It’s been a saying since Imperial Rome that “If you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas”. Now Bell expresses surprise that the Republican Party, having laid down with the tea people, finds itself crawling with crazy. On Boehner, it looks good.

  • CautiousProgressive

    Congratulations Mr. Bell, this is a high quality piece of political writing.

    I found it sophisticated and engaging. More importantly it was informative and blessedly free of partisanship.

    • balconesfault

      But as I pointed out above – it was not free of partisanship. In my opinion, needing to balance a fair critique of GOP behavior with a spurious charge against the Democrats is hardly balanced. I would like to see exactly where the Progressive Left has paralyzed the Dems ability to compromise. I think that’s an absolutely false charge, and it reeks of partisanship.

  • LFC

    Two weeks ago we wrote that inclusion of the Keystone XL pipeline language in the “payroll tax cut” bill had been a neat bit of jiu-jitsu that gave Congressional Republicans at least a chance to stop their erosion in public opinion polls.

    Steve, the “strategy” of always digging in and making demands is not jujutsu. The funny thing that slapping on an unrelated piece of legislation is what passes for jujutsu in the Republican Party anymore. This, along with the 8 other riders the House GOP slapped on, were standard Republican political fare. Bundling that many demands together and slapping them onto an unrelated bill all at once had all the subtlety of brick to the forehead.

    • Ray_Harwick

      Yes, but a brick that turned out to make Democrats look like actual compromisers while the House Republicans took their ball and went home.

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    The damage to the Republican brand is profound.

    That’s because the Republican Party’s damage to American politics is profound.

    another real step toward independence from oil from the Middle East began to divide the Democratic Party.

    That’s a pretty stupid lie. First off, Republicans in states like Nebraska have deep reservations about the pipeline. And more importantly, it’s a drop in the bucket for our energy needs. Make the argument that we should build it now, that’s fine, but it’s not going to decrease the importance of Middle Eastern oil by a single percentage point.

    Let’s see: “Republicans support a tax increase on working men and women, but refuse to increase taxes on billionaires.” “Republicans cut Medicare spending 27 per cent, forcing many doctors and hospitals to refuse Medicare patients.” “Republicans deny help to Americans laid off from their jobs.”

    Yep, that’s what Republicans do. They also claim that income tax cuts increase revenues. And they militantly supported a president who turned surpluses into deficits and worked to expand federal and executive authority at every step. And they lie that the current president went on an “apology tour” (that lie is the basis for Mitt Romney’s whole campaign). And they lie that “regulatory uncertainty” and costly regulations are a cause of problems in the economy (debunked right here at this site: http://www.frumforum.com/more-obama-criticisms-fail-reality-test ). And they claim a global conspiracy to manufacture concern over climate change. And they lie that the stimulus bill didn’t create a single job or contribute to economic growth. And they (at least, national poll frontrunner du jour Newt Gingrich) believe that the world’s Muslims are working with the secular left to create a worldwide pro-homosexual sharia law.

    Remind us again: why are you a Republican?

    The only reasons to be a Republican at this point in time are resentment, inertia, and personal enrichment. You exhibit some baseless resentment towards Democrats in this post, as balconesfault points out, but it seems almost rote. I’m guessing that for you it’s mostly inertia, but maybe there’s some motivation from resentment & enrichment as well.

  • Lonewolf

    As further evidence that Speaker Boehner has been fatally infected by the shameful sabotage-whatever-you-can’t-win SOP of his marauding band of tea people, this morning he ordered the C-Span broadcast of house proceedings to be summarily cut off, just as Rep. Hoyer (D-MD) was moving for another vote to extend the payroll tax cut.
    Such grotesque and obscene political partisanship – using the power of the Speaker’s office to arbitrarily cut off every American’s ability to witness events he finds personally embarrassing – is yet another nail in the coffin of a weak, cynical and doomed politician. Every American should be disgusted with his feeble attempts to hide the truth about what he and his party stand for.

  • chicago_guy

    Boehner hoist with his own Tea Party petard. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy…

  • Saladdin

    Wow, who knew cat herding was harder than it looked? Say what you want, but Boehner can’t touch Pelosi’s ability to keep her caucus in line. Boehner has always been weak, especially prior to 2008.

  • valkayec

    In addition to the comments made above, it should be noted that the House GOP has gone against their own pledge. When they took over the House, their pledge to America, as they put it, was that all bills would have no extraneous, unrelated riders. Yet, this bill in particular was loaded down with unrelated riders.

    It was a virtual “gimme” list of everything the House GOP could stuff into it, from preventing the EPA from regulating large boiler emissions – carbon dioxide, sulfur, and heaven only knows what other chemicals – to requiring children to have SS numbers if their parents file for a child tax credit to allowing states to require drug tests for unemployment assistance, including the desire to raid more of the money set aside to implement ACA.

    Looking at the House package as WaPo did shows exactly how the GOP House membership has violated their own pledge…and how much they want to “stick” it to this President, as the Head of the Republican Study Committee reportedly said during a conversation with Boehner on the package contents. That is no way to run a country, especially a country suffering massive debts, a massive loss of middle income and manufacturing jobs, a huge trade deficit, a massive loss of sales demand, and facing yet another potential recession as a result of a fallout from the Eurozone.

    Frankly, in my opinion, the current GOP is not serious about the challenges facing the American people and our domestic businesses. They’ve done nothing to insulate this country from further economic harm and seemingly have been attempting to demonize middle income and working class earners for the last 11 months while doing absolutely nothing to increase employment.

    I’ve lost my patience with the GOP and any of their apologists. American families are far more important than party political wins. This economy, and the lives of Americans, is not a basketball game. And as long as people like you, Mr. Bell, make excuses for the GOP then nothing will change.

    • zaybu

      +1

      The GOP’s main goal is to make Obama a one-term president, and if they have to plunge the country into the abyss, so be it. So far, they have been consistent in sticking close to that script. It’s either bravery or sheer stupidity.

  • fgtayl01

    A conservative approach toward the Keystone pipeline would be to let the evaluation process do its work. Gather the facts and make the best costs and benefits tradeoff.

    Playing the ‘must decide now’ card and politicizing the review process is neither a conservative approach nor a business-like approach. It serves the political entertainment industry, bloggers, lobbyists and fundraisers.

    But it doesn’t serve the country.

    • paul_gs

      The conservative approach has already been taken in that the Keystone XL pipeline has already been studied to death. It was the EPA itself which endorsed the route to the State Department.

      When the Left doesn’t like the results of valid studies and sound science, they always cry “let’s study it some more”. The decision to delay Keystone was pure politics. That’s OK, but at least call it like it is.

      • TerryF98

        Tax cuts always increase revenues don’t you know, and Social Security is a socialist evil.

        Pity that you don’t believe in states rights as at least one state had a veto on the route of this pipeline due to effects on the sand hills aquifer.

        You sir are not a Conservative in any way shape or form.

      • Traveler

        Paul, yet more BS. Care to document how EPA “endorsed”‘ the route? Care to document how the oil is going to be ”used in the US”? Care to document how many jobs, temporary and permanent, will result? Hate to say it, but statements dont count, and your documentation is even more suspect.

  • jamesj

    “Just like the ‘Progressive Left’ has paralyzed the Democratic House caucus…”

    I can only assume this comment refers to the 1950′s or 1960′s, correct? Obviously we see nothing like this in the modern Democratic party, with their economic and foreign policy slipping ever rightward on the usual scale and co-opting every major Republican policy stance from 20-30 years ago. Right?

  • ottovbvs

    Bell’s XL pipeline gambit didn’t mean a thing to anyone outside of those who visit blogs like this. There was no victory. However this FUBAR for the Republicans is a very real defeat because it crystalises all that average Americans have increasingly been coming to recognize about the GOP. They are a deeply destructive and damaging force in US politics that has no interest in ordinary Americans.

  • The Dead Elephant Society Does It Again! | The Pink Flamingo

    [...] “…The rebellion of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in the House has once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Two weeks ago we wrote that inclusion of the Keystone XL pipeline language in the “payroll tax cut” bill had been a neat bit of jiu-jitsu that gave Congressional Republicans at least a chance to stop their erosion in public opinion polls. We neglected to take into account two things: theology and acting out. [...]

  • scarol

    I appreciate all of the comments. The GOP is so consumed with obliterating Barack Obama that they have forgotten average Americans. The payroll tax fiasco is the last straw. As I long-time GOP supporter, I am sadly leaving my party. There is nothing left for us in the Center.

    • Volosopher

      As someone who has traveled the very same road, welcome!

    • LFC

      I took much the same path during the Gingrich clown show in the 1990s. They totally lost me with W. There’s a lot of us here at FF.

  • ottovbvs

    Looks like the rumors were correct. Boehner cried uncle. Now we can do this all over again in two months time!!!

    • valkayec

      I know. We get the spectacle of another clown show! Only this time with 5 GOP House negotiators who have publicly stated they are against a payroll tax cut. It’s for this reason – that is, having to watch this circus all over again – that I really had hoped that the Senate would have gone for a full year.

      I’ve been praying, wishing and crossing my fingers, hoping the American people get fed up enough to throw out all the Tea Party GOP House members and elect some reasonably sensible representatives in 2012. This mess is too depressing to watch. I’m really ready for some nice boring legislative behavior such as we saw some 40 or more years ago.

      • WaStateUrbanGOPer

        I heartily second the sentiments expressed in your second paragraph.

        If the GOP seriously wants to enhance its long term prospects, seeing the current crop of JBS/700 Club types all go down to defeat would be, for all of its apparent disastrousness, a titanic blessing in disguise. For after President Obama is re-inaugurated, and Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid are sworn-in in their respective chamber’s top leadership role, the GOP can appoint John Hunstman or Mitch Daniels as party chairman, and he can begin the hard work of rebuilding the party in such a way that reflects modern thinking about real– and not imaginary, ideologically conceived– problems.