Of course, the office has its perks just as it always has had its challenges, namely maintaining discipline within the ranks of the majority party while ensuring the election of enough members to hold that majority.
While the job of House speaker is never a breeze, Boehner’s had a particularly difficult task since assuming the role in early 2011. A wave of anti-Obama conservatism fueled by the Tea Party movement returned Republicans to majority status in the House. It was a return to power a mere four years after Republicans lost the majority it captured in 1994.
It soon became apparent that Boehner had his hands full. By design, Republicans continued their no-cooperation plan regarding President Barack Obama. Compromise was a dirty word for the GOP majority, particularly those Tea Party freshmen who came to town planning to radically shrink government.
Boehner is a conservative, but he also owns enough of a survival instinct and sense of reality to not charge blindly into efforts that ultimately hurt his side. Boehner’s unfortunate role in the 2011 debt-ceiling debate is a case in point. The speaker was pushed into an uncomfortable and rigid posture by the fighting-mad wing of his party, a position that ultimately played a role in the lowering of the nation’s credit rating.
Boehner the survivor must surely realize the incident was a net-loss for his cause.
Now he’s back at the negotiation table with Obama, and the conditions for his side have worsened. The president was just re-elected with a majority beyond the one George W. Bush enjoyed in his 2004 re-election bid. One of Obama’s central proposals — raise income taxes on earners making more than $250,000 — enjoys broad public support. A new Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll finds a majority of Americans will blame Republicans if the nation slips off the fiscal cliff.
Yet, Boehner must wrestle with fellow members who either choose to ignore those realities or who are so driven by ideology that they don’t care. The speaker’s offer that was released Monday is a bit of recycling. It’s essentially much of the same proposal already rejected during earlier budget negotiations. Predictably, Democrats have criticized the proposal’s cuts to Medicare and timid plans for raising revenue.
Welcome to Boehner’s bind. Most of his members (as well as himself) have pledged to never raise taxes, a promise that looks more and more like an abdication of a lawmaker’s job. It’s as if these politicians handed one of their important tasks to the great and powerful Oz with no regard to the long-term consequences.
Also, a sizeable share of Boehner’s fellow Republican congressmen appear OK with a little Thelma and Louise-style cliff diving even if it hurts their party’s standing in the eyes of Americans.
It all amounts to a giant headache for Speaker Boehner.