In Critique of Boehner

Part of politics involves dealing and negotiating with people you disagree with. That is just part of political life. For that reason, while it is understandable that Speaker John Boehner is dealing with multiple factions within the Republican Party, this should not be an excuse for holding a government, a national economy, and a world economy hostage over one piece of legislation.

While the Tea Party has a significant force in the Republican Party, it does not have control even within its own party. There are only about 50 members of the Tea Party in the House and a handful of members in the Senate. That is not even a quarter of the Republican members of Congress. This means that Speaker Boehner can pass legislation without the consent of the Tea Party. So, instead of worrying about one-fourth of his caucus, he should focus on the other three-fourths. The mere fact that Boehner is not focusing on the majority of Congress in order to effectively get things done is inexcusable.

Even though Boehner has the Tea Party to deal with, that should not be an excuse for getting nothing done. Other Speakers of the House have been able to deal with divided parties. For example, Nancy Pelosi was able to pass legislation in spite of potential opposition from dozens of Blue Dog Democrats. The Democratic Party of the 1960s was able to pass civil rights legislation in spite of opposition from Southern Democrats. In major pieces of legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, it sometimes took weeks and even months of negotiation to get legislation passed, but at least legislation got passed. The same can’t be said for Speaker Boehner. The point here is that good speakers are able to pass legislation, in spite of dealing with a party that is divided. Boehner has failed to show that ability, and that renders him a hopelessly weak speaker.

Dealing with the President of the United States is also an important part of the speakership. Tip O’Neill, who was Speaker of the House in the 1980s, was able to work with President Reagan in spite of the fact that O’Neill was a Democrat and Reagan was a Republican. Boehner, on the other hand, is completely unable to work with President Obama, as evidenced by the repeated brinksmanship on the debt ceiling. One could argue that this is also a failure of leadership on Obama’s part, but even in that case, Boehner’s weak leadership does not help matters.

What is least defensible about Boehner, and many of the Republicans, is that they fail to learn from history. Just a couple of years ago, one of the major credit agencies downgraded the U.S. Bond Rating, not because the government had trillions of dollars in debt, but because political brinkmanship put that debt at risk. When the rating went from AAA (the highest rating) to AA+, there was not a single mention of Obamacare, entitlements, or even military spending. No, Standard & Poor, the agency that downgraded the U.S. to AA+, said that “political brinkmanship” is involved in the debt ceiling debate made the U.S. government’s ability to deal with its debt “less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” Yet Boehner and the Republicans repeat the same mistake again, which means that he either does not learn from history or that he does not care to learn from history.

Boehner has the numbers to pass a budget. He has a party that is no more divided than any other party on past legislation. He is in a position to deal with the president. He can refer to history that shows that gridlock is worse than anything else. He fails to realize any of this, and for that, the blame goes to Boehner.