It’s Time for Pelosi and House Dems to Support Boehner

The one thing that is severely limiting John Boehner’s ability to negotiate and compromise with Senate Democrats over the budget and pass a clean debt ceiling increase is the threat of losing his speakership. Hard-line conservatives refuse to accept the political reality that Obamacare is the law of the land and are rejecting any budget deal that does not either defund or delay it. It’s an absurd negotiating position and President Obama will never agree to it. That puts us at a stalemate.

There is likely sufficient Democratic support in the House to pass a clean continuing resolution while keeping the sequester if Boehner chooses to bring such a bill to the floor. It probably would break the Hastert Rule (meaning it would not receive majority Republican support), but it would also prevent a government shutdown. However, if Boehner does that, his speakership would almost certainly be over. Here’s Buzzfeed’s Kate Nocera reporting:

“The House needs to completely defund Obamacare, not one penny to Obamacare. If so groups would reluctantly live with a one year no funding deal, but has to fully defund all aspects of Obamacare. Delay without defund or if House funds it in any capacity, then all hell is going to break loose,” said a conservative strategist who was on the call.

The strategist said a one-year delay of funding was “as far as these groups are willing to go.”

“If the House does not stick to its guns on this, there will be a major problem with the conservative and tea party base,” the strategist said.

This gives Boehner no maneuvering room. His options are to either defy the tea party base and lose his speakership or shutdown the government.

But there is one way for Boehner to ensure that he keeps his speakership even if he passes a bill that causes a Tea Party revolt: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Democrats should publicly commit to supporting Boehner if he brings up a clean CR and his base challenges him. This gives Boehner political cover to avoid a government shutdown while also demonstrating an ability to work with House Democrats. The Tea Party would go absolutely nuts, but who cares? Congress isn’t going to accomplish anything until after 2014 anyways.

As for Boehner’s personal incentives, if he really is going to retire after 2014, then right now he is looking to improve his legacy. He is (wrongly) considered an ineffective speaker who has accomplished very little. A government shutdown would only make his resume look worse. But avoiding a government shutdown while keeping the sequester would be a Republican victory that he could be proud of. He would undoubtedly take pleasure in reducing the power of the Tea Party as well. Even if he isn’t planning on retiring, a government shutdown increases the odds that Democrats take back the House which would end Boehner’s speakership in 2014 anyways. Avoiding a shutdown is in his personal interest no matter his future plans.

The biggest issue here is that relying on Democratic support makes Boehner a lame-duck speaker. If he still wanted to accomplish anything during the rest of this Congress, he would face such animosity from his base that he would have to rely on Democratic support. That’s a big problem for him. A few weeks ago, I wrote that it was basically too big of a problem to make it worth betraying the Tea Party. Now, the math has changed. Immigration reform is on life-support and Tea Party opposition to any CR that doesn’t defund or delay Obamacare has left Boehner with no good options. Avoiding a government shutdown with a clean CR would be good politics for the Republican Party and also good for the economy. The challenge is to make it politically feasible for Boehner to do. Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have the ability to do just that and it’s time they did so.

P.S. This would also ensure that we didn’t breach the debt ceiling as Pelosi and Boehner should make a similar deal over that. In fact, its much more important that Pelosi put her support behind Boehner in the debt ceiling standoff so that he feels safe raising the debt ceiling without any concessions from the president. That’s absolutely vital.

Boehner Can’t Betray The Tea Party

Salon’s Brian Beutler is out with an article this morning advising House Speaker John Boehner to give up waging repeated fights over the government budget and debt ceiling and instead agree to fund both for a lengthy period of a time. These fights do nothing, but divide the Republican party and hurt its imagine nationally. So, Beutler’s logical advice to the Speaker is to no longer pass stopgap fixes and get them off his plate until at least the midterm elections.

This makes a lot of sense on political grounds for the Republican party. The GOP wouldn’t have to revisit every few months whether they’re going to bankrupt the government or allow it to default, both political losers for the party. As for the country, these nasty fights unnecessarily hold back the economy and crowd out other important Congressional legislation such as immigration and tax reform.

The problem with Beutler’s strategy is that it would probably cost Boehner his speakership. Beutler says that if Boehner is worried about this, he could make a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that Democrats will support him if he’s challenged by his conservative base.

Speaker Boehner has no good options.
Speaker Boehner has no good options.

But this doesn’t actually accomplish much for the Speaker. He keeps his title while losing all of his power.

If the Speaker faces a rebellion from within his ranks and turns to Pelosi for help, it effectively makes her de-facto Speaker. As we’ve seen repeatedly, Tea Party Republicans aren’t going to sit idly by while the Speaker betrays their most deeply held interests: cutting government spending and defunding Obamacare. In reality, the House doesn’t have a chance of accomplishing either of those, but House Republicans don’t live in reality. They will see Boehner’s betrayal not as a practical solution to improve the image of the party, but as a validation of their not-to-secret belief that the Speaker is a RINO. And they won’t accept that.

Whoever rises up to challenge Boehner for his speakership – whether it be the Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, or someone well outside Republican leadership such as Justin Amash – will have the support from Tea Party groups around the country and many members of the Republican caucus. If Democrats come to Boehner’s aid and save his speakership, the Tea Party will not simply give up the fight. The Tea Party doesn’t give up fights, even ones they’ve lost repeatedly (see, Obamacare). They will continue to fight against everything Boehner does, if just to send a message to future speakers that the Tea Party is not to be messed with.

If Boehner hopes to accomplish anything else in this Congress, it will require large Democratic support and it will be up to Pelosi to provide that support. Anything Boehner wants to pass, he’ll have to run by the Minority Leader to see if she can whip the votes for it. That gives Pelosi all the power. That’s great for Democrats, but horrible for Republicans and even worse for Boehner. He’ll have no power in Congress and a Republican base that will never forgive him. That’s not a strategy the Speaker should pursue.

Boehner Retiring Doesn’t Necessarily Help President Obama

Jonathan Chait posted an article today that outlines the optimistic scenario if Speaker Boehner retires after the 2014 elections. The midterm elections are far off still so we won’t know for a while if Boehner is sticking around or not, but Chait hypothesizes that if Boehner does decide that he’s done with political office, it could be a boon for the President’s second term:

The trouble in Washington is not so much Boehner himself, though he’s no prize, but Boehner’s desire to keep his job. A small minority of the most extreme Republicans in the House have managed to keep Boehner on a leash by threatening to depose him as Speaker if he displeases them. The Republicans hold a narrow enough majority that even an amateur-hour coup came within a handful of votes of deposing Boehner already. If Boehner wants to keep his job, he has to avoid displeasing his extremists, and his extremists are so detached from reality that they insist on wildly unrealistic demands on issues like the debt ceiling and Obamacare.

But if Boehner feels liberated to flee the House, then suddenly all sorts of governing possibilities open up. He can lift the debt ceiling and keep the government running. He could sign immigration reform, even cut a deal on the budget. There’s probably a majority in the House for all these things — it’s just a majority consisting mainly of Democrats along with a handful of Republicans. Boehner could use that majority and then ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist, enjoy a huge raise, and play a lot more golf.

Everything Chait says there is true. If Boehner finally gets fed up with the extremists in his group and decides to govern, Congress could suddenly become quite productive (well, not that productive – there’s still the Senate filibuster). There are a couple of landmines here though.

First, Boehner probably wants to keep his speakership til the end of 2014. If he starts breaking the Hastert Rule frequently, his conference would likely revolt pretty quickly. Maybe the Speaker could make a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi so that he’d keep his speakership with significant Democratic support. But that would effectively give Pelosi control over the House. If Boehner needs the Minority Leader to keep his position and to pass anything, he doesn’t actually have much power. I can’t see Boehner putting himself in that position right before his retirement.

Second, this puts the rest of the Republican leadership in limbo. Do they support Boehner even as he pisses off a number of House Republicans? Or do they ditch him as well and give up their current leadership position in hopes of taking the speakership in the next Congress? A lame-duck Boehner who chose to govern would split House Republicans. It could get very messy. Does Boehner want to leave that as part of his legacy.

Third, Chait’s analysis rests on the idea that Boehner can “ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist” and make a bunch of money. If he ruins his relationship with most of his Republican colleagues though, how will that look? How may firms on K-street are looking to hire a former Speaker who passed legislation right before his retirement that most of his party opposed? I imagine he’d still have a number of suitors, but he’ll make a lot more money and have a lot more friends if he rides out Republican opposition until the very end.

Finally, and most importantly, even if Boehner’s retirement helps the President move some of his agenda in the short run, it could hurt him even worse in the long run. A new Republican Speaker (assuming the Democrats do not retake the House) will be in the same position that Boehner currently finds himself in, balancing the moderates in his party who are looking to govern with the many extremists who reflexively oppose the President on everything. Boehner has done an excellent job appeasing the extremists during times of non-crisis while ensuring that they do not cause too much damage during crises (see the debt limit fight earlier this year). A new speaker will have less experience striking that balance and may face greater suspicion from the Tea Party. Even worse, if a Tea Party member is elected, we could find ourselves with a speaker who wants to shut down the government or breach the debt ceiling. That would be a disaster for Obama’s last two years in office.

So, if Boehner retires, does it really help the President? It’s certainly not clear.