Can Boehner Lead House Republicans?
Last night’s failure of House Republicans to pass a bill that would have been dead on arrival in the Senate, anyway, raises questions about whether a deal is possible and whether John Boehner can lead his own coalition.
Time’s Jay Newton-Small (“The weak speaker: How a failed debt vote disarmed the nation’s top Republican“):
House Speaker John Boehner failed to muster enough GOP votes to pass his plan to raise the debt limit on Thursday night, throwing into question the fate of Boehner’s proposal as well as that of his speakership. Republican leaders must now rewrite the legislation in order to attract more conservatives as they try to pass a revised version on Friday. But considerable damage has been done. Boehner’s negotiating stance in the ongoing effort to trim deficits and raise the debt ceiling by next Tuesday’s deadline is hobbled; any credibility he had in claiming that his restive members could get behind a consensus debt deal has vanished. The Speaker has gone lame.
The House was expected to vote Thursday evening on Boehner’s legislation, which would raise the debt ceiling through the end of 2011 in exchange for $917 billion in spending cuts and the creation of a special committee to find more savings that would accompany a second debt-ceiling vote in January. It looked as if Boehner would have the votes early Thursday, but by 5 p.m., Republican leaders announced that the vote would be postponed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had already declared the House Republican plan dead on arrival in the Senate. But House leaders worked to push the measure through because, as they told their members, it would give them greater leverage in negotiations with the Senate and, perhaps more importantly, their own credibility as dealmakers was on the line. Boehner hoped to force the Senate – and President Obama – to take his version of the debt bill. The Speaker was crafting legislation with Reid until last weekend, but the two split over whether to raise the debt ceiling through 2012 in one vote, as Democrats wanted, or to try for a second debt limit hike in six months. Reid and Obama argued that holding another tortured debt ceiling debate in January, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, would be politically unwise and economically dangerous.
But after he split with Reid, Boehner was left with a bill that was too far to the left for the ideological purists in his conference. Conservatives balked at $18 billion in Pell Grants for low-income students that Boehner had included to lure Democratic votes. They were also disappointed that the bill only called for $917 billion in cuts. Their preferred legislation – a conservative dream bill known as Cut, Cap and Balance that passed the House earlier in July on a near party-line vote – would’ve halved the projected $7.1 trillion federal 10-year deficit by next year. That bill died in the Senate.
In a highly embarrassing development, Boehner must now move his bill to the right in order to secure enough votes from his own party. The Speaker’s failure exposes an uncomfortable reality for the GOP: A final debt ceiling compromise will likely require a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass the House, and the outspoken conservative wing of the party will not be on board. That could embolden Democrats to seek a more favorable deal, and it leaves Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a weaker hand to negotiate.
So, Boehner had a bill that was too far right to make it through the Democratic-majority Senate, tried to convince his coalition to vote for it anyway to give him negotiating leverage, and they balked because it was too far left. This would seem problematic.
The solution would seem to be to craft a bill that gets most of the Democratic caucus to go along and enough Republicans to pass. That would both avert a self-inflected default on the nation’s debt and the devastation to the economy it would create while still giving fiscal conservatives significant spending cuts. It would also lead to a revolt in the Republican caucus and cost Boehner his Speakership.