How House Republicans Neutered Themselves

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Last night witnessed the implosion of John Boehner’s efforts to pass a Republican-crafted fiscal-cliff proposal, otherwise known as “Plan B.” Unlike the floated compromise, Boehner's proposal would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone earning under $1 million, preserve a high estate-tax cut-off, and slash spending on tax credits for working-class Americans (in addition to cutting Obamacare and repealing key mechanisms of Dodd-Frank).

The idea was to build leverage in negotiations with the White House by passing a bill that could serve as an alternative to any deal that doesn’t give substantive weight to conservative interests. If, for example, the White House refused to concede further entitlement cuts, Boehner could send Plan B to the Senate, and force a vote, thus presenting himself as a sensible negotiator, pace President Obama’s partisan demands.

If House Republicans had basic tactical skills, this might have worked. Instead, the right-wing fringe of the GOP caucus—which sees itself as the brave anti-tax resistance to Boehner’s Vichy regime—rejected Plan B, left the Speaker’s reputation in tatters, and produced an epic fail for the Republican Party. Not only will this hurt them in the court of public opinion—where 53 percent of Americans already see them as too extreme, and 48 percent already plan to blame them if we “go over the cliff”—but it’s certain to hurt GOP interests in any future attempt to deal with the fiscal cliff.

In a press conference this morning, Boehner insisted that a Republican-crafted solution is still possible, but the fact of the matter is that—if last night is any indication—nothing will pass the House without significant Democratic support. In other words, any fiscal-cliff bill that passes the House of Representatives before January 1st will likely have substantial input from Nancy Pelosi and other liberal Democrats. And if we go over the cliff? Democrats will possess most of the leverage, and will be able to shape a solution far more favorable to their interests than the one floated by President Obama earlier this week.

As for Boehner? He’s in a tight spot. If he wants to maintain his speakership—and avoid massive tax increases—he’ll have to craft a fiscal-cliff solution that will pass muster with the more reasonable but still right-wing half of his caucus. Anything less—i.e., a deal that leans heavily on Democratic support—will almost certainly lead to the end of his speakership.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for Boehner’s predictament. For the last two years, he—and the Republican leadership—has indulged the most conservative elements of the GOP, signing off on an endless pattern of brinksmanship and hostage-taking, even when it came at the expense of the economy. Indeed, it’s gone on for so long that Boehner no longer has control—the inmates now rule the prison, and they’ve directed their energy toward opposing new taxes on the rich at any cost.


It is now impossible to perceive who actually can speak for the House GOP with any authority.

For 4 years Republicans whipped up the feeble minded with conspiracy theories of socialist, UN takeovers, and now they cannot control the crazies when their leaders ask them to negotiate with The President who just yesterday was a socialist pretender.

These are not real legislators with the country's interests at heart. Nor do they care about the middle class. They do not wish to govern. Some just want to see the system burn--and us with it. The GOP is now a collection of warring religious tribal factions fighting under the discrete flags of Norquist and the NRA.

This is ultimately our fault and responsibility. We need to address this problem in 2014. Have we had enough yet?

As of this week, and probably more as the next Congress convenes, America is much more like a parliamentary democracy than the two-party system we tend to assume is our inescapable fate. This will be very interesting to observe.

The Tea Party representatives are often in districts so carefully gerrymandered that they have much less fear of losing to a Democrat in November 2014 than to a more radical GOPer in their own primary. This limits Boehner's leverage over his caucus, since his support means nothing for their re-election.

In a parliament, the party of the center is the swing vote and the power broker, even when it is a minority. That means Nancy Pelosi is now much more important than John Boehner, gavel or no.

If there are 15, 20, 35 or so Republicans who feel secure in their primary but worry about the general election, Pelosi and the DNCC should offer to support them for re-election in exchange for compromise votes on stimulus, medicaid, gun control, and (be still my heart) campaign finance reform.

We have a moment now when post-partisan politics is thrust upon us. We should grasp this nettle with both hands.

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