Boehner Shows Leadership in Debt Negotiations

July 11th, 2011 at 10:57 am | 120 Comments |

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Let’s have some genuine applause for John  Boehner’s leadership: his acknowledgement that a smaller debt deal makes sense does seem to allow a path to avoid default and, ampoule simultaneously, click lets the Republican Party make the best of the politically disastrous decision to play with the debt limit.

The decision to bring up the debt issue in the first place was a no-win situation for the GOP. Under the initial plan, Republicans could either get real debt reduction by coming up with a plan that the administration and Senate Democrats want—modest spending cuts and big tax increases—or force default on the debt and thereby cause an even more serious recession. A modest plan that puts aside the “trillions” in cuts that Boehner once promised allows for a “plan C”: a package of spending cuts that can get Democratic votes and a Presidential signature in return for a short-term debt limit increase. Even better, from a rank-and-file point of view, such a plan could let many members stake out a position to the right of their own leadership and get away with it.

The real losers for real leadership may be Boehner and the rest of his leadership team. He’ll have to bring to the floor a package that, most likely, will pass only because Democrats will support it. The Democrats who support it will get kudos from the business community and, given the way such things work in Washington, whatever they want from the White House. (Want a regulation to benefit a big local employer? The President showing up at your next fundraiser? Some tax breaks for your friends? Senate consideration of a pet proposal? Step right up.)  Republicans will have many fewer favors to offer but will still have to twist arms. For every Republican “no” vote that pads his or her majority in a right-leaning “safe” seat and fends off a Tea Party challenge, another member in a less-safe Republican district will be stuck casting a “no right way” vote. Meanwhile, Democrats will get the credit for being the ones who favor a big-time deficit reduction package without actually having to vast a vote in favor of the painful choices it will involve. It seems quite possible that Boehner will face a semi-serious challenge to his leadership at some point: it probably won’t succeed but it could well lead him to decide to cut his career short.

Is this “Plan C” better for the GOP than any alternative currently on the table? Quite possibly.  Does Speaker Boehner prove his leadership bona fides by bringing it up? Yup. Is it a real political winner? Not at all. But, once the debt ceiling debate began, no Republican alternative ever was.

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120 Comments so far ↓

  • indy

    All the House GOP needs to do to control this process is send a bill to the Senate raising the debt ceiling but without tax increases.

    I’ll repeat what I said above. The most likely outcome of doing this would be a lot of livid senate republicans who will be forced to deal with some very ugly political options. It would be amusing to watch but never in a million years actually happen.

    • pnumi2

      I do believe that whereas all revenue bills must originate in the House, once they get to the Senate they are amendable. I’m sure otto will correct me if I’m wrong.

      The tax increases left out of the House bill can be added in the Senate. Unless 41 GOPers filibuster. If Reid doesn’t ask for a cloture vote the debate over taxes could last a long time.

      • indy

        Oh come on pnumi. You need otto? First sentence of article 1, section 7: “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”

        The bill would be brought up under senate parliamentary rules that would basically force the senate GOP to filibuster consideration of their own house bill. I don’t know how that will play in Peoria, but it doesn’t seem promising.

        As I said earlier, common sense would dictate that if it were possible to employ DSP’s solution of somehow trying to force the opposing political party to take all the heat by simply hitting the ball into the other court, it would have happened long before now. If the senate is good at one particular thing, it is covering their own collective ass regardless of whether democrats or republicans are in the majority.

  • pnumi2


    “And the 80 million checks that aren’t getting signed?”

    Social Security checks are handled before the 2nd of the month. Plus, you get July’s check in August. The old folk will get their monthly stipends.

    It’s the army and doctors and suppliers, etc. etc. who are sweating.

    It’s hard to believe that there will be a 10% monthly haircut and it’s hard to believe it will last more than month.

    “Then an enormous row is going to break out in the GOP.”

    And suddenly the default is a godsend.

  • Bunker555

    Cantor is getting his wish for running Boehner out of town. He’s probably salivating on his 2016 prospects of running for the Presidency.

  • Bunker555

    Another Nate Silver gem:
    The mistake that a lot of first-term members of Congress can make is to assume that electoral environment from which they were elected is one that will persist indefinitely. Most freshmen Representatives aren’t likely to have developed particularly strong constituent services, or to have acquired positions of power within the Congress. These are the kinds of things that help a member get re-elected when the political environment becomes more challenging, as it inevitably will get sooner or later.

    But those who stake out ideological positions that are out of step with the voters in their district are liable to be especially vulnerable. Political scientists generally agree that there is a relationship between the ideological views of a Congressman and the share of the vote he tends to get in subsequent elections, with more extreme and partisan members having a higher bar to clear.

  • Raskolnik


    You never responded to think4yourself’s electoral math. For the record, while it was always a long shot, I do think that enough Democrats could have sided with enough moderate Republicans to pass a bill that heavily favored spending cuts over revenue increases (eliminate the loopholes, keep marginal rates where they are), say at 5:1 or 6:1. Crazy Denny and the “Justice League” would have fought it all the way, but the Democratic votes are there and I’m sure Obama would have bit his tongue, swallowed his pride, and signed it.

    The title and major premise of this article, however, is that “Boehner Show[ed] Leadership” during the negotiations. That is false. A true leader places those he leads above him- or herself, a true leader is a servant of those for whom he or she is responsible. Boehner achieved his lifelong dream of becoming Speaker, but what is that worth, if he is unwilling to use his power to accomplish something meaningful? The saddest part is that, if he had succeeded, he could have possibly even gotten some moderate Democrats to help bolster his standing within his constituency. He could have been a Republican Tip O’Neill. Instead, he is going to have to face a Tea Party challenge from the right, as he always would have no matter what happens with the debt ceiling, except now he will have pissed off and/or disappointed anyone and everyone who could have helped him retain his seat. Not that keeping Boehner in power is a great thing, but something tells me Cantor would (will?) be even worse.