Boehner's no good, very bad day--and its consequences

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Rep. John Boehner 2010.

Article Highlights

  • CBO eviscerated Boehner's debt limit plan, forcing him to come up with another $350 billion in discretionary budget cuts

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  • 59 of #Boehner's 240 House Republicans have pledged themselves not to vote for a debt limit increase

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  • Boehner essentially asks two dozen colleagues to walk the plank for something that has no chance of becoming law

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John Boehner had a very bad day Wednesday. First, the Congressional Budget Office eviscerated his debt limit plan, forcing him to scramble to come up with another $350 billion in discretionary budget cuts, which in turn means that Boehner will have to bring up his revised plan late--but also with less than the three days notice he pledged to allow for every significant piece of legislation brought before the House. Second, he is in full panic mode to come up with the 217 votes (not 218, because of vacancies) necessary to pass his plan through the House, facing a daunting arithmetical challenge: 59 of his 240 House Republicans have pledged themselves not to vote for a debt limit increase. He can aim for less than a handful of Democrats to counter defections.

"Every speaker has these moments when getting to a bare majority is excruciatingly difficult, and it requires offering inducements or simple begging." -- Norman Ornstein

So Boehner and his leadership team are pulling out all the stops, putting his full prestige on the line, to get members to renege on their ironclad pledges. Every speaker has these moments when getting to a bare majority is excruciatingly difficult, and it requires offering inducements or simple begging. But a speaker can only go to the well once or twice to get his or her members to walk the plank. In this case, Boehner's tactical maneuvers mean that he is asking two dozen or more of his colleagues to walk that plank in return for something that has no chance of becoming law. Instead, it is a vote to give him the barest amount of additional traction to cut a deal for a plan that will dilute even further the package that they are on record condemning for its weakness. Many of the reluctants will not be willing to walk the plank a second time for the compromise. So Boehner will face another crossroads--will he be willing to bring up and push for a plan that will require almost as many Democrats as Republicans, to make up for the defections in his own ranks?

If Boehner wins the vote, it will be by the barest of margins, not exactly providing momentum for his position. If he loses, it increases the chances of a compromise that takes a few elements from his plan and many from Harry Reid's. But a much weaker Boehner, having lost a big one in the House, will need even more Democrats than Republicans to push it through. The consequence if that fails? Awful for him now, not to mention his place in history. But far worse for the country.

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI.

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About the Author

 

Norman J.
Ornstein
  • Norman Ornstein is a long-time observer of Congress and politics. He is a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic and is an election eve analyst for BBC News. He served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also served as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann (Oxford University Press, 2006, named by the Washington Post one of the best books of 2006 and called by The Economist "a classic"); and, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann, published in May 2012 by Basic Books. It was named as one of 2012's best books on pollitics by The New Yorker and one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post.
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