John Boehner: A pathetic profile in Jell-O

The House speaker may get credit if he finally defers to the Senate to end this crisis. But he doesn’t deserve it

Published October 16, 2013 11:45AM (EDT)

John Boehner                                   (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
John Boehner (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

It’s an insult to all Americans’ intelligence and good will if the debt ceiling and government shutdown crisis end the way so many pundits of average intelligence, myself included, said it had to: with House Speaker John Boehner turning to the real speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to get the job done.

I mean, what do most pundits know? It could have taken a different turn, right? Except we’ve seen this movie many times before: Whether it’s keeping open the government when Boehner first took his job in 2011, or the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal, or the fiscal cliff deal last January, or Hurricane Sandy aid, or the farm bill, or… well, it’s been clear for a while that the only way Boehner can pass legislation that will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate (numerically controlled; the gateway to legislation can be blocked by the GOP minority) is by turning to Pelosi and asking her to corral her caucus and vote.

So this crisis may end the same way. It may: We started Tuesday believing a Senate deal was likely, and the House GOP rejected it. Then they rejected the deal Boehner proposed. Obviously, almost anything remains possible.

Let's take in what occurred. On Monday night House Speaker Ted Cruz gathered the House Tea Party caucus secretly, I mean in public, at a Capitol Hill hot spot, Tortilla Coast, after news broke that Senate Republicans and Democrats were close to a deal. In the morning, Boehner tried to put together multiple deals, and they all fell apart. Heritage Action, which was for an end to the debt ceiling crisis before it was against it, said it would score any vote for the amorphous Boehner deal against any House GOP member.

After the House left without a vote Monday night, most reports said the action was going back to the Senate. “It’s all over. We’ll take the Senate deal,” a senior House GOP aide told the National Review Online.

But assuming that Boehner is going to defer to the Senate for a deal at some point on Wednesday? What a disgrace. So much damage has been done. Roughly 800,000 people have been furloughed for more than two weeks. People have been denied life-saving experimental drug trials. Kids have lost a chance at Head Start. And the default threat is already hurting the country, and costing everyone money. Interest rates are already climbing. The government is paying more on its debt. Consumer confidence has dipped. Our political dysfunction has made us a global disgrace.

By lamenting “political dysfunction” I may seem to be falling into the false equivalence trap. I want to be clear: Democrats have been compromising since President Obama took office – which is their contribution to political dysfunction. Even this deal, if it happens, represents a compromise on the part of Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to work it out; Boehner hasn’t brought Pelosi in, and won’t until he needs her to save his ass. So there’s a baked-in GOP advantage there.

Settling for only a short-term debt-ceiling hike is another compromise. It makes many progressive Democrats nervous, and so does the pledge to engage in more budget negotiation/deficit reduction – after the deficit has fallen faster than at any time since World War II.

So if Boehner eventually caves to reality, please spare me any tributes to his courage, how he placed his job at risk. He hasn’t merely waited until the last minute to recognize reality; he has gone beyond the last minute. The economy is already suffering. And if  Ted Cruz or some other Senate Tea Party terrorist wants to delay this reckoning, they’ll get at least another 30 hours. Boehner should have factored that into his endgame. Except he doesn't have one.

Will Boehner hold out for what seems to be the House GOP's last priority: denying their staff any employer support for health insurance? It's ludicrous. Let's hope their angry staffers decide to share with the world these awful last days of the incompetent House Republican leadership.


By Joan Walsh