Boehner’s Hail Mary Pass Risky and Unproductive?
By John Feehery
On its face, the Speaker’s Hail Mary Pass seemed risky. The Senate was close to reaching a final agreement, which Boehner’s announcement seemingly scotched.
The clock was ticking towards the final countdown until financial Armageddon. The stock market was getting nervous. The ratings agencies were none-too pleased and getting increasingly agitated with the Washington shenanigans. It all seemed so unproductive. But for John Boehner, it was one further opportunity to teach his members a lesson about legislating.
For the House Speaker, who is not nearly as weak as people like to believe, this isn’t just about public perceptions. It is about training his members on how to be a team. And some of those members don’t want to be on the team. Those members want to free-lance. They want to hot-dog it to the press. They want to be purer than the whitest ideological snow.
Boehner probably isn’t going to get those members, who number in the twenties, to vote with him. They are a lost cause. They aren’t legislators in any normal sense. Some want to move up to the Senate. Others simply aren’t fit to be in either body of the House. But for the Speaker, this isn’t about them.
This is about the vast majority of the Republican conference who actually want to accomplish something while they are in the Congress. And what John Boehner needs from them is honesty. These members need to vote honestly.
They need to vote for things that that they hope will become the law of the land.
Three times at the beginning of this session, Boehner didn’t get a majority of his majority to vote for must-pass legislative items. Three times, the House worked its will, and yet a majority of Republicans voted against the stated position of the Speaker. Most of those members who voted against the stated position of the Speaker secretly wanted the legislation to pass. Those members wanted to do the easy thing and vote no, because they are most concerned with a possible primary opponent. So, on issues like the Violence Against Women Act, the deal to make 98% of the tax cuts permanent and the so-called fiscal cliff, a healthy chunk of Republicans voted no.
By allowing Ted Cruz to shut down the government, and by accepting the strategic advice of Heritage Action, Boehner taught the rank and file a lesson that they probably won’t forget any time soon. Following the advice of Ted Cruz will get you nowhere fast. He also finally helped to awaken a sleeping giant, the business community.
The groups that represent big business (the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, etc), have gone missing from this debate about the future of the American economy. They have ceded the debate to nutjobs on the right who seemingly don’t care about America’s reputation internationally and certainly don’t care about economic stability domestically. There is some evidence that the business community is finally waking up from its long slumber and starting to engage. It will be a long time until they are as effective as the right-wing groups in striking fear in the hearts of the average GOP Congressman, but if they get their act together, they should serve as an effective counter-balance to the nihilists at Heritage Action.
It is somewhat stunning that Koch Industries just gave the kids at H.A. a check for a half million dollars, especially since they have said publicly they don’t support their crazy tactics. But maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to the funders of all of these right-wing groups: You have a created a series of monsters that just might destroy your business.
In any event, Boehner decided to only save the day when he had no other choice. And he did that to prove a point to the vast majority of his members: Follow me, not Ted Cruz. Boehner’s biggest strategic goal is to get more of his members to vote for the wider deal that will eventually pass the House and Senate. He wants to take the pressure off of the 60 or so loyal and smart members who actually want to see the government work. If the vast majority of the Republican conference supports the final deal, it makes it harder for the crazy right-wing shadow groups to pick off a couple of Boehner’s most loyal supporters. One of these crackpots (I can’t remember which one) promised a primary for every member who supports a deal that doesn’t include the defunding of Obamacare.
With Congressional approval ratings hovering around 10%, I would assume that to be just about every member who gets a primary opponent. But the members that do their homework, who do the right things for their constituents, who work hard, and who take responsible votes that keep the government operating and that prevent another fiscal crisis, should be able to hold their heads up and win their party nomination. Those members who vote no on everything and who do their best to keep the government closed and get us too close to defaulting on our debts are just seat-warmers who are doing nothing to make America a better place to live. They deserve a rigorous and hopefully successful primary challenge.