Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Repeal and John Boehner

So, it pretty much bites to be John Boehner, no?  At least, that's my first reaction to the McClatchy poll showing (once again) that repeal of the ACA is not, in fact, the popular position.

I was in transit most of the day yesterday, so I'm slow in responding to this one -- see Ezra Klein for more about this specific polls.  My first response, however, is that it's a good reminder, once again, of how much trouble is ahead for John Boehner.  Really -- is there any way out of the trap that's been set for him?

After all, for lots of reasons House Republicans are going to be pushing for strong, successful action.  What they really want -- full ACA repeal, slashing spending, a balanced budget -- they can't get.  Can't.  Can't.  The reality is that Republicans are short about 13 Senators and one president from getting those things, especially since most of them are unpopular beyond hardcore GOP voters.

In other words, if Boehner pushes anything short of extreme policies, his conference is going to feel forced to denounce him as a sell-out.  If he pushes extreme policies, they'll pass the House (furnishing great 2012 ammunition for the Democrats, since these policies are unpopular) and die in the Senate.  And there's no guarantee that true believers won't blame Boehner for failing to get these things enacted, even though he has no ability at all to do that.  My guess?  He'll be the target, maybe not as much as Harry Reid and Barack Obama, but nevertheless, he'll be blamed.

(Really.  If only he had threatened to shut down the government...if only he had carried through with his threat to shut down the government...if only he had refused to negotiate after the government shut down...if only he hadn't caved after two weeks of government shutdown instead of believing those bogus polls pushed by the biased media instead of the honest polls featured on Fox News showing that the tide was really turning).

Now, the truth is that Boehner does have a few perfectly decent strategies (such as rejectionism without his own policy agenda, or cutting deals to get goodies for GOP-aligned groups), but any viable strategy is going to require buy-in from true believers.

Is there any hope at all for that?

Not impossible, but unlikely.  Republican leaders -- most definitely including Tea Party leaders, talk show hosts, all of that -- would have to agree on an alternate strategy.  Forget spending cuts and settle for symbolism, such as banning earmarks.  Forget ACA repeal and settle for symbolism; I'm sure they can generate something that Obama would sign.  Forget real deficit reduction and settle for...oh, it hardly matters, no one cares about the deficit.  Settle for phony projections.  That'll take care of the deficit.

Call those victories, and move on to investigations and tax cuts -- the former you can do just in the House, and the latter you can at pass in the House and then attack Dems for blocking in the Senate.

Toss in a few votes on Constitutional amendments, and that's your 112th House.

If GOP leaders outside the House were content to settle for investigations, blocking Obama initiatives, and passing a few symbolic things, John Boehner could certainly deliver.  If they can present a unified front in favor of that plan, the rank and file would go along.

If they demand more, it's just not going to happen, and he's sunk. 

Unfortunately for Boehner, it's highly unlikely that Republican leaders will be satisfied with what's possible.  There are too many incentives to demand the impossible -- everything from profit motives for some, to just basic momentum from a landslide election for others.  And that spells big trouble for the incoming Speaker of the House.  As I've said, I think he's a decent pol, but he's going to have to be a great one to find a way out of this.


  1. OK, so Boehner will have to settle for symbolic votes, and he won't be able to pass legislation that his base would like to see passed. You seem to think that this puts him in a bad situation. Why?

    "Results" as we normally understand them (i.e., passing legislation) are just not going to be important to the incoming House majority, at least not for the next two years. I really think you have to take McConnell at face value when he says that the GOP's number one objective is to win the presidency in 2012. It's not to slash spending; it's not to repeal ACA; it's not to extend the Bush tax cuts. It's to win in 2012. And, if I'm John Boehner, complete gridlock is just fine for me if it means the economy is still sputtering along by the time people decide whether to re-elect Obama.

    (I guess it is possible that the GOP/Tea Party base will blame Boehner for his failure to somehow override the will of the Democratic Senate and White House. But something tells me that the House GOP will be more effective than the Dems were in tagging the other side as "obstructionist" and blaming the lack of concrete results on the other side's intransigence.)

  2. Boehner's constituency is the House GOP caucus. If he does things they approve of, he survives and prospers. Yeah, voting for ACA repeal might be unpopular in the country and might give ammunition to Dem challengers in 2012. But from Boehner's view, so what, if that's what his members want to do? They might lose seats in 2012, in the 49-state Obama landslide against Palin, but I doubt they lose the majority or that Boehner gets blamed by the people who count (for him).

    A scenario like that would hurt Boehner more if he were setting himself up as a high-profile national leader a la Newt Gingrich, but it seems he's deliberately not doing that. As to the righty constituency groups outside Congress, they're going to interpret House GOP votes through the lens of Fox News, which means that if Boehner & Co. do X it will be because they already know that Fox is onboard or that they'll get onboard once they get the memo from the GOP caucus.

    It does bite to be someone in all this, but I would say the people getting bit are the freshmen GOP members who hold marginal seats that could be secured and held for a long time with a little prudence and political savvy, but who instead are going to be force-marched off the cliff of ACA repeal and government shutdowns along with the rest of the caucus. I'm wondering how many of these people Boehner will release to vote against the party line, and how many will be able to do that without getting Tea Party primary challengers or the threat thereof.

  3. >I guess it is possible that the GOP/Tea Party base will blame Boehner for his failure to somehow override the will of the Democratic Senate and White House

    It's possible? Considering the amount of progressives who blame Obama for not passing a Krugman stimulus and single-payer practically by fiat, the idea that tea-partiers, who have a far looser grip on reality, won't want Boehner's head on a stick in a year or two, is hard for me to imagine.

  4. I think this depends on how the talking heads of the GOP respond. Remember how they found deficits when we elected Obama, but they didn't matter under Bush?

    I just doesn't matter much what Congress does; it matters how Rush, Glen, Ann, Laura, and Brit sell it to the sheep.

  5. Obamacare is "popular?" What planet are you on, man!! Wow!

  6. "...McClatchy poll showing (once again) that repeal of the ACA is not, in fact, the popular position."

    When has popular opinion ever stopped republicans before!? This matters not one whit to them. And the sad thing is that they can constantly do things that the American people really don't want to have done and yet they always come out on top in the end. I personally think it's just because the democrats are just SOOOOOO inept. But, doesn't matter. They will constantly be bringing up repeal bills and causing harry reid and obama massive indigestion. All because they say BOOOO!

  7. Just wanted to chime in that I'm totally in agreement with Kylopod and zic here.

    Also, Anon,

    No, ACA isn't very popular -- but neither is repeal. And while it's unclear whether ACA per se will become more or less popular as it's being implemented, full repeal will almost certainly become less popular down the line -- people may or may not like the law in the abstract, but they're certainly not going to want the Feds to take away their benefits.


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