Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Challenge for Speaker Boehner

Today, John "I don't use tanning beds" Boehner becomes the new Speaker of the US House of Representatives, a position very different from ours. Boehner comes into this very high position of power, third in line to become President, if both Obama and Joe Biden are "mysteriously" unable to do their jobs. He is able to set the agenda in the House, control all committees, and has 241 other Republicans behind him to push his agenda, however he sees fit. Yes, the GOP now has their hands on the levers of power, or at least one of them.

But Boehner comes to the Speaker's chair with a bit of a monkey on his back - the Tea Party. While it's not necessarily their ideology that will put pressure on Boehner, it will be their impatience and the lack of respect for what it takes to govern effectively, especially when your opponents control the other two levers of power, that makes his job difficult. Remember, GOP won their 63 extra seats on an expectation from the Tea Partiers and regular voters that they would do something different, something to stop what Tea Partiers called "Obama's agenda," with the worlds evil, socialist, and Keynesian thrown in between there. But the GOP's hands are completely tied by what they're going to be unable to do outright, especially with all of this repealing Obamacare business. While it is true that the House can put blocks in the way of funding Obamacare, an outright repeal is very unlikely, even with their majority. With the Presidency and the Senate in their hands, the Democrats have the advantage in legislative control right now, meaning that it'll be quite the battle, one that on technical grounds alone the GOP will be likely to lose. If they can't get an outright appeal, the GOP will likely force a compromise, and the Democrats will likely accept. Obamacare will probably be saved, if even more diluted; but I guarantee that the Tea Party will not be impressed.

Which brings us back to Boehner's challenge: how does he placate Tea Party calls for outright eradication and "principled stands," with the realities of governing and politics in Washington? How he does this will be key to how the GOP survive for the next few years. If he can balance the two, then he will have control over his caucus and over the agenda, and will be able to maintain the votes he needs to stay in the chair. But if he slides one way or another, by compromising too much or being too much of a stick in the mud, then he'll face heavy consequences. Independents, the key to his win this past November, will flee in all directions if they don't see something working the way they want to. And the Tea Party may help them right along.

But one thing that we should never do is underestimate Boehner. This was the man that no one thought could lead the GOP, or become Speaker of the House, or really do much of anything. He's the consummate politician, a man who has been involved with the establishment for years and knows how it works. If anyone could balance the Tea Party and reality, it's him.

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