You know, I’ve been hard in the past on John Boehner, the weepy, carrot-colored soon-to-be-former speaker of the House. I’ve mocked him as perhaps the most ineffectual politician ever to hold that high office.
I was making fun of him as far back as his tenure as minority leader, when he whined that he couldn’t get Republican votes for Dubbya’s $700 billion bailout of the financial industry because Nancy Pelosi said something mean about his caucus. I jeered at him when he couldn’t even get the House GOP to vote “yes” on their own bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security open. And so on.
But now, as he prepares to step down from his position, I’ve got to hand it to Orange John: For once, he’s managed to keep his party from shooting itself in the foot, something that they were apparently just aching to do.
At issue was yet another wrangle over the twin issues of averting a government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, that arguably unconstitutional imaginary cap the Congress puts on our ability to actually pay for things for which they’ve already authorized spending. Failure to raise the ceiling when needed would lead the United States, the greatest country in the world, to default on its debt like some Third World banana republic. Shutting down the government would result in an interruption of vital services.
Nevertheless, the fiscal terrorists of the far right have repeatedly threatened to bring these disasters down on our heads if their demands were not met. This time, they started pressuring Boehner to threaten a shutdown if Planned Parenthood wasn’t defunded. That, however, was apparently dropped in favor of convening a House Select Committee to investigate the already debunked accusation that Planned Parenthood clinics are illegally selling baby parts. After all, they need a new multi-million-dollar bogus witch hunt to get the rubes all worked up about after Hillary Clinton handed them their behinds over Benghazi. Again.
Enter the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” a group of Republican congresscritters so bold and forthright that they will neither confirm nor deny who’s actually a member. This shadowy cabal scotched the bid of California Rep. Kevin McCarthy to take over Boehner’s seat and made a list of demands to any other candidate wanting their support. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepared his own ransom note. Both demanded, among other things, serious cuts to Social Security and Medicare as a condition of keeping the government open and avoiding default.
Then Boehner, much to everyone’s surprise, committed an act of actual governance. He and other Republican leaders negotiated a deal with the White House that raises the debt ceiling far enough that it doesn’t have to be addressed again until 2017 — after the next election. It also averts the possibility of a government shutdown until at least the end of the Obama presidency. And it did both without draconian cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
The Teahadists, of course, had a conniption. The deal was a sellout, they claimed, and shows just why Boehner has to go. “I think the process stinks,” fumed Paul Ryan, who’s in negotiations with the Freedom Caucus that might just allow him to take Boehner’s place as speaker without the daily fear of getting their knives in his back. Yet most political analysts think there’s not enough time for the deal’s opponents to stop it.
Inwardly, however, Ryan and the few sane Republicans must be breathing a sigh of relief. Because here’s the thing: Every time there’s a shutdown or a threat of default, their party’s image takes a walloping in the polls.
For example, in 2013, after even a partial shutdown, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 8 out of 10 Americans said they disapproved of it, 63 percent had an unfavorable view of the Republicans in Congress, and “4 in 10 had a strongly unfavorable view of the GOP.” That’s not the kind of damage a party who wants to hold the Senate and take the White House can absorb in an election year. Ryan at least is bright enough to know that.
For all the kvetching and calls of “betrayal” directed against soon-to-be-former-speaker Boehner, he’s handed his party — and the country — a gift on his way out. Most of them are probably too delusional to realize it, but Paul Ryan ought to send Orange John a case of his favorite Scotch for Christmas.