December 21st, 2012

Boehner the naif

“Meltdown” is really the meme du jour for House Republicans’ failure to coalesce around Boehner’s Plan B.

Great Speakers (and/or Majority Leaders) are not necessarily great statesmen (or stateswomen; let us not forget Nancy Pelosi). Perhaps that quality is even counter-indicated, and at any rate statesmanship seems rather rare these days in politics. But what great Speakers absolutely need to be is great herders of cats—that is, House members of their own Party.

They also need to be great strategists, although perhaps that’s the same thing.

And that means that, for starters, they shouldn’t open their big Speaker mouths to play this sort of game without knowing, absolutely knowing, they’ve got those cats in the bag.

Boehner didn’t—keep his mouth shut, that is, or absolutely know he had those votes lined up.

If you’re curious what actually happened, this piece by Robert Costa in National Review purports to describe the process. But short of saying, in a rather lengthy way, “many conservatives defected,” it doesn’t really tell us all that much.

Apparently some of those defectors were surprised and somewhat disappointed that Plan B didn’t go through despite their own failure to support it; perhaps they’d hoped that they could vote “no” as individuals and thus please their conservative base (and win re-election, of course; isn’t that what it’s all about?) while still allowing the bill to pass. In other words, they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. But sometimes that just doesn’t work out, and someone left this cake out in the rain.

DrewM at Ace’s counsels that it’s all not really such a big deal because the bill was never going to be law; Democrats in the Senate wouldn’t pass it and Obama wouldn’t sign it:

Passing it in the House alone was simply a public offer of good faith designed to have something to point to when Obama pushes the country over the cliff.

Yes, but the GOP desperately needed a “public offer of good faith” right now, in order to at least try not to have this thing pinned on them. Now they’ve lost even that, and look foolish in the process.

DrewM goes on:

We’re at this point because of the deal that Boehner and the GOP made in the summer of 2011 to avert hitting the debt ceiling. The $1.2 billion in cuts from sequestration everyone wants to avoid like the plague? That was our PRIZE.

But don’t forget that during the debt hike debate and shortly after, Boehner kept talking to Obama about a “grand bargain”. As part of that talk he put revenue on the table ($800 billion or so). Obama then demanded more revenue and the talks died.

And remember, the debt deal was supposed to be about SPENDING CUTS to more than offset the debt hike. Obama however pocketed Boehner’s willingness to include new revenue as a concession and gave nothing back in return.

So the deal was cut last year setting up the fiscal cliff (the tax extensions, the payroll tax holiday, the death tax cut, and of course the looming sequestration cuts once the “Super Committee” failed). The GOP was betting Mitt Romney or some other Republican would beat Obama. That was….unwise.

Now here we are.

As far as I can tell, Boehner has been one of the worst Speakers in history, at a time when we desperately need one of the best. This particular error—acting as though you have the votes when you don’t—is an unforced rookie error, something like a lawyer asking a question to which he/she doesn’t know the answer.

So, as Ezra Klein asks: will Boehner continue as Speaker when it comes to a vote on January 3? I don’t pretend to know any inside baseball about this—or about who his challenger would be, and whether that person would be better than Boehner, but it’s hard to believe he/she could be worse.

[NOTE: Also, this rift mirrors the larger rift in the Republican Party between the so-called “establishment” and the more conservative and/or Tea Party wing. Perhaps it’s even the reason that Romney lost the election—the failure of the Party to coalesce behind him, or as many conservatives and/or libertarians might put it the failure of the establishment to allow them to have a more conservative or libertarian candidate (although I’ve never understood exactly how they were stopped, when no attractive candidate of such ilk threw a hat into the ring, and nominees are selected through primaries). The Republican Party is not only weak right now but dangerously divided.

Or perhaps it’s weak because it’s dangerously divided. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, leaves whatever principles it has behind in order to win politically. Whatever Pelosi did to get those votes on HCR, she sure got em, didn’t she? And although the Party lost temporarily as a result in 2010, look how it’s bounced back.]

[ADDENDUM: Oh, and in case you want to know—and in case it’s not obvious from the foregoing—I think Boehner’s got to go, ASAP. Republicans desperately need someone new at the helm.]

24 Responses to “Boehner the naif”

  1. Mr. Frank Says:

    For Obama it’s total war. His objective is to crush the Republican party. Pointing to a bad recession caused by Republicans will do nicely. Anyone with a lick of sense knows that Obama has no interest in cutting spending. Republicans who think he just might for them are amateurs.

  2. DirtyJobsGuy Says:

    A moment of Christmas calm is in order here. I was speaking this morning with my collegues in our French office about Gerard Depardieu and his escape to Belgium. He’s become quite a hero despite the shrill denunciations of the Socialist government. There is no more money to fund the welfare state and while it can hang on for a while more, like the Soviet union it will collapse.

    Come January 2 the bill comes due. Not only will peoples withholding go up, but many expect their health care insurance to be free or lower cost not to rise or be restricted in scope as it will. States will face budget shortfalls (mostly blue) and want raise taxes and cut middle class aid. This will face astonishment at the idea that the wolf is finally at the door.

    Like WWII we can only put off our participation in reform only so long. There is a Churchill out there for us.

  3. Ann Says:

    Interesting article at The Atlantic about the relationship of Boehner and Eric Cantor, House majority leader:

    Cantor was cast as the bad cop in the debt-ceiling fight. As the spokesman for the Tea Party freshmen, he pushed Boehner away from making a deal — at one point even contradicting the speaker in front of Obama, a move both the White House and Republicans took as a humiliating slight.

    This time, Cantor’s only role has been as a staunch supporter of Boehner in his talks with the president. The change is the result of a behind-the-scenes battle for dominance between the two men, which Boehner won decisively.


    Conservative groups are livid at the Plan B proposal — but there’s no single, prominent voice speaking for them in the House now that Cantor’s no longer the standard-bearer for the loyal opposition. If the millionaire tax hike passes, it will be a major accomplishment for Boehner, and a sign that the fiscal-cliff talks could be headed for resolution after all.


  4. southpaw Says:

    Neo –
    It should come as no surprise to anyone I totally agree. Boehner has been a terrible speaker and they need to ditch him.
    And kudos for pointing out this mess was his/their own doing back when he/they signed on to the agreement. Kick the can down the road, get re-elected, make some short term agreements, kick it down the road again, get re-elected. Rinse, cycle, repeat.
    This is the way fiscal policy has been handled – it’s a game played by both sides to gain a majority, or hold on to seats if that isn’t possible. The econmonics and country are secondary to the struggle between parties for power. The good of the country be damned.
    At first I was amazed that Boehner seemed unware of, or unable to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors in the recent past, who had been betrayed at every opportunity by a far less nasty bunch of democrats.
    I finally decided he was not as naiive as he was a part of the establishment in Washington, and more than happy to go along with every spending bill that came to the floor as long as he got a piece of it. He gave lip service to entitlement spending, but rarely opposed it until the Tea Party showed up on the scene. As the debt ceilings were going through the roof, he viewed his job as raising it to avoid whatever credit downgrades were coming our way, never acknowledging that maybe we deserve a downgrade if all we can do is borrow money to pay for the money we’re borrowing. Rather than take a stand and take responsibility for skyrocketing debt, he viewed it to be more responsible — his job, to keep raising it — that’s the way it was always done, and he wasn’t about to ask questions. At the end of the day, he’s not a good policy guy, and even worse at the power game.
    I acknowledge it’s a hell of a tough job, but hey, he asked for it. Boehner is the protypical congressman who rose through the ranks playing the game as he was taught to play it – get in line with the established program, and you will be here a while. Throw a monkey wrench in the tax dollar gravy train, and you’re not going to survive.
    On sequestration — I fully admit not understanding a thing about macroeconomics — so I will throw this out for somebody to explain if the sees my post.
    On the one hand, establishment republicans talk incessantly that out of countrol government spending, particularly on entitlements, is BAD for the economy and causes higher unemployment, stifles capitalism, etc. I can accept that and see how. What I cannot understand is how the same people are terrified of going over the fiscal cliff, claiming the ECONOMY will suffer, not just because taxes go up, but also citing the drastic spending cuts as a reason.
    I understand it will hurt our defense spending disproportionally. So if this is the case, then we should be able to argue that spending 3x as much on defense as we do now would be 3x better for the economy… but this violates the premise that govt spending harms the economy. For the record, I’m ok with defense spending, because it’s one of the few things the govt is supposed to do for us we can’t do ourselves.
    I am totally in the dark about how they can say that drastic spending cuts are both bad and good, sometimes in the same interview, and nobody puts their hand up and says “uhhm can I ask a question?” I have yet to hear it asked, so I’m assuming I am the only person in America who doesn’t understand why the drastic spending cuts are going to cause us to go into a severe recession. Any help would be appreciated.

  5. expat Says:


    I believe Ryan was pretty good about explaining the need to change the trajectory on entitlement spending without making destabilzing changes to people on medicare and social security. He was drowned out. Our biggest hope on other spending is the governors who can show that reining in government works.

    I agree that Boehner has been bad at herding cats, but some of the cats have been pretty full of themselves. As soon as it seems that priorities have been established, someone brings up another issue and starts stamping his feet. The Dems have learned to keep quiet about certain issues until they win a victory, and then they push on for priority #2. Of course, that’s why I don’t trust them, but a lot of voters seem to.

    If Boehner goes, Republicans should pledge not to eat his successsor for breakfast. They should learn to work differences out behind the scenes and present a unified face to the public.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    expat: good luck with that.

    I have learned from my several-years-long and previously unaccustomed sojourn in the domain of the Republicans that eating each other for breakfast is their favorite occupation. It seems to be baked into the cake, as it were (to continue the cake metaphor).

  7. Mr. Frank Says:


    What screws this issue up is the use of great amounts of borrowed money to goose government spending. In the short run is stimulates the economy or, at least, keeps recession away. The argument against excessive government spending is it takes money out of the private economy where it could be used for investment and private spending. When the money is coming from the Fed’s electronic printing press, it is a “free lunch.”

    The downside is you pile up debt and you can’t stop. As a Fed member recently said, it’s the Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave. About 40% of federal spending is borrowed money. Any major cut would push GDP down and unemployment up. Pay me now or pay me later.

  8. Oldflyer Says:

    I try to get a handle on the issues that they are supposedly fighting over, but I simply cannot.

    Do Conservatives really want to stake their future on preventing a tax increase of 4 or 5 percent on people who earn more than some “very large figure”? It seems that they have drawn a line in the sand that is going to be washed away by the tide. Why can’t they just pick a number; I would say $750k, and give the Dems their tax hike. Get it off of the agenda. Then, fight like hell for spending cuts– immediate spending cuts–and for protecting the middle-class, wage earning, taxpayer.

    I have tried to understand and support Boehner for quite awhile. But, Clint Eastwood told us what to do about people who are not doing the job. Now, I believe that Neo is correct, he must go.

  9. Don Carlos Says:

    I emailed my Congressman’s chief of staff (COS) yesterday before Plan B failed; I wrote in part, “Boehner as Speaker is clearly a man out of his depth. He cannot negotiate adequately on behalf of the House GOP.”

    The COS reply, in full: “I am curious because I have heard this a few times now from blogs and talk radio. Who else is running for Speaker besides Boehner?”

    I replied, “My email was in no way triggered by blogs or talk radio. It was in response to my increasing frustration, over months not weeks, with Boehner’s public posturings. I am not serving in the House. The fact that no one except Boehner is running does not speak well for the majority, of which (my GOP Rep.) is a member. The leadership issue is one for (my GOP Rep.) and his colleagues to address. I speak as a mere constituent.”

    How minds work inside the Beltway….Like greyhounds chasing a metal rabbit because there’s only one rabbit to chase.

    My GOP Rep. is a RINO, if you hadn’t guessed.

  10. blert Says:

    It’s weird.

    I proposed that the Republicans actually go for a tax hike, you guessed it, on those making $1,000,000 per annum.


    Sure, it’s terrible policy.

    With Barry in the Pink House that’s actually a plus.

    The key to remember is, that for that tax bracket, it votes and contributes Democrat to an astounding degree.

    We have a bar-bell voting distribution in todays America.

    Bill Gates
    Warren Buffett
    Wall Street
    Mega Banks
    Big Medicine

    On and on it goes…

    The love big government — and are — indirectly — on its teat.

    Our Federal budget directs immense economic resources towards these players, year in and year out.

    Because of Barry’s policies, very few non-crony capitalists have any shot at earning $ 1,000,000 per annum.

    This fact is one of the reasons why Barry & Co. are starting to have second thoughts about Plan A, Plan B … or any Plan…

    What the Tea Party faction has to understand is that pain will instruct where logic and history fails.

    It’s the least bad solution to the economic information corruption that is the MSM and financial media at this time.

    ( A threshold of $ 2,500,000 per annum would be even better, but it’s a tough sell at the podium. )

    I don’t see where a change in Speaker is going to shift the Titanic away from the Iceberg. We now know that it would’ve been better to hit the berg, full speed, dead ahead than swerve.

    Such a collision would’ve impeached the calm of the captain — and made manifest the peril.

    It would’ve had the alarm broadcast so much earlier.

    It probably would’ve crumpled the front – – yet not zipper-ripped the side.

    It’s a bad idea to mitigate the folly of Barry. It’s necessary for the signal to break through the MSM noise and agitprop.

    And, this time around, Barry won’t be able to blame on the Jews; always a favorite of despotic politicians.

    (Look for it, though. Morgan Freeman will probably lead the charge.)

  11. rickl Says:


    I regularly read Karl Denninger’s Market Ticker, and he has been saying that we have been in a depression since 2008 (or even 2007) and the government is masking it with borrowing and spending. If the budget were miraculously balanced today, GDP would plummet by 40%. I believe the official definition of a depression is a 10% decline. I don’t know off the top of my head what it was in the 1930s. In 2008, the hit would only have been around 20%. Essentially, the government and the Fed are running faster and faster just to stay in place and keep the economy and stock market from collapsing.

    If TARP had not been passed in 2008, banks with bad loans and mortgages on their books would have failed. But that is what is supposed to happen in a free market. Both individuals and businesses should be rewarded for good decisions and punished for bad ones. Bailouts reward bad behavior and perpetuate it.

    If TARP had never happened, the economy would immediately have gone into a depression. Neither party wants that in an election year, and it’s always an election year. But the bad debt would have been flushed out of the system and we would be in a genuine recovery by now.

    The longer we put off the reckoning, the worse it will be. But the reckoning will come, one way or another.

  12. rickl Says:

    Back to Boehner, I saw a comment by Thresherman at Ace of Spades this morning:

    …And the analogy of Boehner playing chess? Spare me. Look who he is playing against, Obama. That would be like Boehner playing chess against a pigeon because you know the pigeon is going to knock over the pieces, shit on the board and then strut around on it like he is victorious or something.

    That’s a candidate for Comment of the Year.

    It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

  13. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    }}}I think Boehner’s got to go, ASAP. Republicans desperately need someone new at the helm

    I think a randomly chosen Mexican would do better than this Boehner.


  14. Don Carlos Says:

    Iwould be very careful reading Market Ticker if today’s top post, an apallingly ignorant article by a pharmacist on IMRT, is any guide. Apallingly ignorant, and revelling in it.

  15. rickl Says:

    How so?

  16. parker Says:

    We are Wimpy, and Tuesday approaches like a blood dimmed tide. We can not repay. We can not repay. All fall down. If I could predict the timeline I could make trillions!

    “Bill Gates
    Warren Buffett
    Wall Street
    Mega Banks
    Big Medicine”

    You forgot George Soros, but otherwise your list is a good start. These folks, along with the denizens of DC, are the enemies of the republic. We are living in occupied territory.

  17. Don Carlos Says:

    rickl- read up on Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy. It uses highly complex treatment machines- each IMRT linear accelerator has a base price of >$ 2 mill, an annual service contract cost of about $250-300K, Complex machines have more down time.
    IMRT is superior in the treament of many cancers than non-IMRT, which higher cancer doses yet lower doses to critical normal tissues.

    Medicare does thorough evaluations of the costs of equipment, maintenance, staffing, downtime BEFORE IT SETS AN ALLOWABLE REIMBURSEMENT FOR ANY PROCEDURE, INCLUDING IMRT.

    IMRT is not for all cancers with curable potential, bor for the incurable Stage 4s where palliation is the object. It happens to be the best reimbursed way to treat localized prostate cancer, since Medicare has slashed its payments for near iso-effective therapies such as radioactive seed implants, done by urologists. So urologists with radiation oncologists have partnered for the high capital investment for an IMRT unit which includes a special building and land with 4ft thick concrete walls and ceiling for radiation shielding, dosimetry computers and a CT to help design accurate treatment, the medical physics and therapist and nursing staff.

    That sort of investment for that sort of outcome–cure without rectal damage requiring Depens forever- is no small thing. A course of prostate IMRT typically takes 35 treatments over 7 weeks.

  18. rickl Says:

    Don Carlos:

    If you’re knowledgeable about this subject, you ought to go over there and leave a comment.

    I think the point KD was making in posting that article was, “Where is the money going to come from for this kind of treatment?”

  19. Don Carlos Says:

    I don’t post refutations to the biased and the ignorant. Just my policy. I find it wastes my time and effort and accomplishes little.
    As to KD’s motive, I call that into question too, if his motive is that which you assert. Improvements in medicine are not free. Health care was a great deal less costly 100 yrs ago.
    If KD cares about the cost, why does he not know or address how Medicare fixes its reimbursement of Procedure X ? Believe me, Medicare is not giving money away to legitimate medicine.

  20. rickl Says:

    Social Security is potentially fixable with adjustments to tax rates and retirement ages.

    Medicare is not. It is utterly unsustainable. It is going to go away in the not-too-distant future.

    Then what?

  21. Don Carlos Says:

    Simple: Raise the premiums, as is done in the real world. Your SS fix, “adjust the tax rates” is the same process.

  22. southpaw Says:

    Mr Frank, rickl, and expat – thanks for the explanations. So it seems the economy has a dependency problem and it needs to be weened off the government spending to avoid a big hiccup. And there are no immediate means of replacing the entitlements for people who’ve become dependent on them if those things are chopped off. And This was Ryan’s approach gradually slow down the train rather than derail it.
    I have been trying to understand why inflation has been kept fairly low if money supply has been expanding faster than the rate of economic growth too. It seems at some point this has to blow up also.

  23. Gary Rosen Says:

    southpaw, that is a puzzle to me also that we have not had rapid inflation from the insane amounts of money the Fed has injected into the system. Maybe it has masked what should have been a severe deflation? Or maybe it is propping up the price of housing. Even though home prices are low they have not sunk nearly as far as they could have and prices are even rising again, especially here in the SF Bay area where housing is always very expensive compared to the rest of the country. But this is with mortgage rates at ridiculously low levels.

  24. parker Says:

    Inflation is beneath the radar because it is a monster that creeps up a fraction of a percent per month. Its there, pay close attention to what you spend for food over the next few months. Conversely, there is deflation of most hard assets. This is made possible by the current, but short lived, status of the USD as the reserve currency. This house of cards will collapse but the timing is difficult if not impossible to predict…. 6 months to 6 years? It is coming but no one knows when.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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