“This never had a chance to work, and people are still out of work, and the government is still shut down.”
– Rep Pete King (R-NY).
The Speaker of the House is in a dire political position. It is perhaps the most unstable that his unstable leadership tenure has been. There is no leadership control. It appears to have been conceded the far right of his Party who now apparently control the strategy of the GOP entirely. Unless Democrats suddenly cave to Tea Party demands – which they have no reason to, especially given that the majority of the public blame Republicans for the shutdown – then there is no victory for Speaker Boehner. There is only catastrophic failure for his legacy as Speaker of the House. One that has no real end game for him, but resignation.
In interviews this weekend, the Speaker attempted to shift the narrative from a shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, to a shutdown over the debt limit. It seems Boehner’s original plan had been to pass a clean CR, and to then use the debt limit as leverage for spending cuts. This plan was thrown into the flames not be the Speaker of the House, but by a junior Senator from Texas who had no end strategy, no plan to ensure coverage for the 870,000 uninsured children in his own State, but instead spent time reading Dr Seuss. The Speaker is completely at the mercy of the Cruz Republicans.
We know that John Boehner believes Republicans like Cruz are entirely to blame for the shutdown, because in March 2013 the Speaker said:
“Our goal here is to cut spending, not to shut down the government. I believe trying to put Obamacare on this vehicle risks shutting down the government.”
– Boehner publicly (and rightfully) announced that attaching the Affordable Care Act to an unrelated vehicle risks government shutdown. Six months later, he changed that position and decided that attaching rejected-at-the-election policy to an unrelated CR was perfectly reasonable, and in fact rejecting it would risk shutting down government. It is a complete u-turn. Speaker Boehner in March 2013 would agree that Speaker Boehner in October 2013 was responsible for shutting down government. Similarly, House Republicans in 2010 would agree, given that they signed a letter addressed to the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which read:
“The CR should not be used as a vehicle to carry unrelated items in an attempt to circumvent the regular legislative process and avoid offsetting the costs of such legislation.”
– And so the Speaker had two choices. To either continue with the original plan, to be consistent with his own and House rhetoric over the past three years, which would entail refusing to attach an attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act to a CR, thus risking a showdown with Senator Cruz & Tea Partiers in the House. A strategy that might well have resulted in an attempt to oust Boehner as Speaker. There is no other reason why the Speaker will not allow a clean CR vote in the House, especially given that at least 21 House Republicans are willing to back it, and Republicans in marginal seats are naturally worried about their re-election prospects in 2014.
The Speaker has a real concern that his position may be weakened in his own Party (the country is not top of his considerations), given that attempts to oust him as Speaker at the beginning of this year came short by only five necessary votes. The attempted coup was led by the completely ungovernable Tea Party Republican Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan’s 3rd District, which includes Grand Rapids (one of the few cities in the US I’ve visited!). Amash was stripped of his role on the Budget Committee in late 2012 for what his own Republican colleagues say:
“their inability to work with other members”
– In response to his removal by Republicans who considered him unable to work or to compromise with other members of his own Party, Amash said that Republican leaders in the House:
“…are in a lot of trouble.
“They’re going to have to make amends, or there will be a new leadership team in place, it may not happen right away, but it will happen.”
– Making good on this threat, Amash then went on to hold one-on-one talks with fellow House Republicans to stage a coup against the Speaker in January this year. The coup only failed because they had no one in mind to replace the Speaker, choosing instead to vote for several different members, or just not voting at all. So Boehner knows his position is almost completely in the hands of a few fanatics who consider him a puppet rather than a leader. This is a new development, in that usually a fringe group of a Party need to remain on the leadership’s good side for such formidable influence, but as it stands now, apparently the opposite is true; the leadership is working to stay on the fringe groups good side, to hold onto power. Republican House strategy is no longer shaped by the Speaker, but by a Tea Party fringe. The consequences for the Party will be reflected in 2014.
Not only his position weak when it comes to his choice to continue down the Tea Party laid path, but if Boehner suddenly decided to allow a vote on a clean CR, and 21 of his own House Republicans – worried for reelection in 2014 – voted alongside House Democrats and ended the shutdown, it is a resounding confirmation that Republicans could have ended the shutdown days ago. It is also a victory handed to the President by House Republicans, who simultaneously disprove Boehner’s insistence that there aren’t enough votes in the House to pass a clean CR (On a side note, there weren’t enough votes in the House to repeal Obamacare 43 times… but it never seemed to stop them trying).
So Speaker Boehner has a choice; continue down the Tea Party route, thus putting jobs at risk, the economy at risk of default and recession, and ultimately ensuring that his own Party – currently sliding heavily in polls – is now a Party of a right wing fringe inevitably resulting in losing the House in 2014…at which point, he’d have to resign. Or, call a vote on a clean CR, watch as House Republicans join House Democrats to end the shutdown, accept that he could have done this days ago and saved a lot of panic, hand a major political victory and concession of political leverage to President Obama & the Democrats, and then resign for such a catastrophic failure of leadership and judgement.
There is nowhere for the Speaker to turn. He has to go.