Boehner’s dilemma

Prospects for President Obama’s embattled domestic agenda come down to the following six words: Let’s hope John Boehner gives up. From any hope for a grand bargain on tax reform or entitlement reform to the easing of deepening sequester cuts to even a chance of passing immigration reform, the opportunity for accomplishment lies in a bipartisan coalition the Speaker could lead in the House, in defiance of his most conservative GOP members. The only problem is, Obama, whose preference is now governing by “Whac-A-Mole,” doesn’t appear to know it yet.

So far Boehner has given up on leading his conference — away from political suicide, that is — and is currently endorsing the Tea Party’s perilous and pointless plan to defund ObamaCare or shut down the federal government. But just because he can’t lead the “Kamikaze” crowd, as The Wall Street Journal called them this week, doesn’t mean he can’t leave them. Indeed, rumors are swirling that Boehner has made it clear this will be his last term as Speaker. And who could blame him?

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Should Boehner replace GOP votes with those from Democrats, conservatives would likely be under staggering pressure from outside interest groups to jettison the Ohio Republican immediately. But for a veteran lawmaker who seeks to go out governing, it is a chance Boehner might take. After imploring lawmakers at his second swearing-in last January to work harder, stating it was “time to rise,” Boehner has found himself unable to. With deadlines approaching on funding the government, passing a farm bill and raising the debt ceiling, the Speaker and his troops are marching in place. There’s no path forward that doesn’t threaten the economy.

Conservatives in the House stripped Boehner of his ability to lead before he even started his second term as Speaker. Nearly a year ago, in the “fiscal cliff” fight when the Bush tax cuts were set to expire as new spending cuts kicked in that would have plunged the economy into a sudden and sharp downturn, Boehner’s own conference rejected his “Plan B” to raise taxes only on millionaires while retaining the Bush tax cuts for everyone else. By refusing to back any tax hike, Republican dead-enders ensured taxes went up on anyone making $450,000 per year instead of $1 million per year — a far worse deal by any conservative measure.

Meanwhile, the president continues to claim he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, which is laughable. His response to a chemical attack in Syria (though not to a two-year civil war) was a debacle, as members of both parties rejected his plans to use military strikes after he asked for support but declared he could still go it alone. In the face of international embarrassment, Russian President Vladimir Putin provided Obama a momentary reprieve from his own mistakes. But days later, Senate Democrats torpedoed his potential nomination of Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve. Now, in the face of another fiscal crisis that could threaten default, has Obama offered proposals, talked earnestly with Boehner or lawmakers leading the charge on tax reform? No — after being rescued by the Russians last week, Obama’s strategy for a fiscal fight is to be rescued by House Republicans, when they shut down the government and look worse than he does.

Boehner’s only chance at governing, whether he leaves his job next year or not, might now be with Democrats. The president, now isolated not only by Republicans in Congress, public disapproval and even some lawmakers in his party, would be a fool to overlook it.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

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