GOP ready for Round II

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn’t ready for the dustbin of history — whether it is President Obama or the conservative members of his own conference who want to “shove” him there.

After the best week in, well, perhaps his entire Speakership, Boehner told a crowd at the Ripon Society Wednesday that he thinks Obama is trying to annihilate the GOP, but that he is “up for the fight.”

“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said, according to a transcript of the speech. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal — to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”
 

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His remarks came after the House voted to extend the debt ceiling until May 19, without the corresponding spending cuts they were demanding in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase just weeks before. The pivot away from using the debt-ceiling vote in late February as a negotiation for deep cuts represented not only a shrewd move by Boehner, and the leaders who backed him up this time, but by the members who seek considerable spending reductions in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase and who have continuously and stubbornly rebuked Boehner in the past. Moving the deadline repositioned the debate so it could begin in earnest without emergency. With the world watching, Boehner argued with the help of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that House Republicans could not be held responsible for the adverse consequences of near default, let alone actual default.
 
Boehner described his strategy, of picking the right fights, to the Ripon members this way: “We’re going to have to make some big decisions about how we as a party take on this challenge. Where’s the ground that we fight on? Where’s the ground that we retreat on? Where are the smart fights? Where are the dumb fights that we have to stay away from? We’ve got a lot of big decisions to make.”
 
In exchange for putting off the deadline by suspending enforcement of the debt limit, House Republicans drafted a bill including several conditions, including a demand that the lawmakers go without pay if they don’t pass a budget by April 15, and the promise to produce their own ambitious budget to reach fiscal balance in 10 years. Budgets passed by the House GOP the last two years, written by Ryan, have only reached balance in 30 years.
 
In what was the third significant bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives in less than a month, the House passed the bill 285-144. This time, instead of a majority of Democrats passing a controversial bill, Boehner only lost 33 conservatives on the vote, and 86 Democrats resisted their leaders’ recommendation they oppose it. The White House has indicated it will sign the bill, and Senate Democrats said they will pass it, perhaps even without a roll-call vote. Though shame had never worked, as Senate Democrats have refused for four years to pass a budget, faced with having their pay withheld, they suddenly appeared happy to fulfill their constitutional duty.
 
For the first time in a long time, Boehner had boxed the Democrats in. “The premise here is pretty simple,” Boehner stated during the debate on the floor. “There should be no long-term increase in the debt limit until there’s a long-term plan to deal with the fiscal crisis that faces our country.”
 
More significant than shelving congressional pay is the pressure to resolve the question of whether or not the across-the-board “sequestration” cuts — mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that the Congress has yet to replace — be permitted to take effect. The spending cuts, which both parties have characterized as disastrous, have been hanging over the heads of Congress since August of 2011, and there are no signs whatsoever that a compromise is in the offing to stop them. The deadline for the cuts of Dec. 31 was extended by two months in the hastily hatched “fiscal cliff” deal of New Year’s Eve, and it is now assumed that the sequester will begin at the same time a continuing resolution must be passed to keep the government operating, and that the two events — in late March — will force the parties to agree on a longer-term deficit reduction plan.

That may or may not occur, as the Budget Control Act of 2011 lead to a supercommittee that collapsed without a deal and a fiscal-cliff deal that resolved the issue of the expiring Bush tax cuts but not sequestration. But for now, House Republicans have removed themselves from a political cliff they were headed swiftly toward.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted the move would set a new precedent, that the debt-limit vote would no longer be “taken hostage,” and he characterized the move as a GOP defeat. “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.”
 
Boehner and his rank and file may have blinked, but they saw the political reality and found the high road again, at least for now. Consensus and victory are far from likely. Yet by putting off the debt-ceiling battle until after the debate over the sequester and a budget for 2013, he and House Republicans have “shoved” off a losing battle and lived to fight another day.
 
Sometimes it takes adding $450 billion to the nation’s debt, which is estimated to pile up by May, to ultimately reduce it.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.