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Lame-duck discontent puts Boehner speakership in jeopardy

During election season, one of the most common refrains to bring a reluctant party faithful to the polls is “the most important vote that will be cast is the first one for Speaker.”

Nothing has changed.

{mosads}The Speaker election and indeed all House leadership elections are determinative for the next two years, and cannot easily be undone. So, when Republican members of Congress come back to D.C. next week and are sworn in, they make their first and most important vote.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is a known quantity, and for those newly elected members, the lame-duck session demonstrated what his speakership will be about for the next two years.

The seminal votes on both the rule for the government funding bill known as the “cromnibus” and the final passage of the bill showed the tenuous position the Speaker finds himself in and reveals his decision-making in crisis.

The rule passed by a swing of one vote, garnering 214 Republicans for it with the remaining House Republicans opposing along with the Democrats.

However, the bill itself found even more opposition with 67 Republicans or 27 percent of the Republican conference voting nay, and Boehner choosing to depend upon President Obama to deliver the needed Democratic votes for passage.

It could be this decision that threatens the Speaker’s ability to retain his post, as evidenced with stories from The Daily Caller — “Conservative lawmakers plan to vote against Boehner for Speaker” — or calls from conservative talk-show hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin to replace him.

Traditionally, the House is run by the majority political party, and a leadership team’s job is to put together legislation that can get 218 of their colleagues from the same party for passage.

This system has broken down under Boehner. In the aforementioned House funding bill, conservative hold-outs went to House leadership and offered a way to gain passage of the bill by moving to the right, rather than cutting deals with Democrats. The offer was rebuffed, and that ultimately may have serious ramifications for Boehner’s viability going into that first vote.

Now, Republicans dissatisfied with Boehner’s leadership don’t need to have a majority of votes in the conference to support an alternative; all they need to do is have enough votes to veto or blackball a specific candidate for Speaker whom they deem to be unacceptable.

Next week during the Speaker’s vote, if 29 Republicans decide that they will not vote for Boehner to continue as Speaker, he doesn’t get to be Speaker unless he convinces a Democrat to vote for him.

The question remains whether 29 House Republicans will inform the House Conference that they want a new vote for Speaker behind closed doors before the Jan. 6 floor vote to make it clear that Boehner does not have the votes to retain his post. If this occurs, the Boehner Speakership is over and the backroom deal-cutting begins.

On the other hand, if members have not properly organized prior to Jan. 6, the effort will surely fail.

Every single incoming House member knows that the vote for Speaker is the most important vote they cast, and in the wake of the lame-duck session momentum is building to reject John Boehner. It is going to be an interesting weekend in Washington.

Manning is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.

Tags John Boehner Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

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