Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 16, 2011

WHY BOEHNER WILL NEED DEMS' HELP TO THREAD THE BUDGET NEEDLE.... In general, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) more or less got what he wanted yesterday. He worked out a temporary budget extension that delayed a shutdown deadline by three weeks, while also getting $6 billion in cuts he and his caucus sought, and the package passed the House fairly easily.

That's the good news. The bad news is the way the developments unfolded left Boehner, well, kind of screwed.

A total of 54 GOP lawmakers from the Speaker's own caucus broke ranks and opposed their own party's bill for being insufficiently radical. Plenty more of the 186 House Republicans who did vote for it only did so because it met their arbitrary spending-reduction targets. Had it not been for House Democrats voting for the compromise, the whole deal would have been scuttled the government would have shut down on Friday.

Given this, the NYT reported today that the GOP leadership "could have difficulty selling a final budget compromise to its membership if the plan dips very far below the $61 billion in cuts approved by the House and does not contain policy restrictions on abortion, the new health care law and environmental rules that many House Republicans favor."

That's putting it mildly. Boehner has to compromise because there's a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House, but his caucus won't support a compromise because they're hysterically right-wing -- if 54 GOP House members opposed yesterday's measure, they'll really hate any deal struck with Harry Reid and President Obama.

The Speaker is then left in the untenable position of needing the votes of House Democrats just to keep the government's lights on. It led Brian Beutler to argue Boehner has found himself in "Checkmate."

[T]he 54 Republicans who voted against the stop-gap legislation put him in an unenviable box: Either he kowtows to his right flank, and pushes initiatives that can't pass in the Senate; or he abandons them, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has suggested, and passes consensus legislation. The latter option, however, would require significant concessions to win Democratic votes, and further delegitimize himself with the Tea Party base.

If he chooses option (b), he will need Democratic votes. And that would abruptly flip the dynamic on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have been riding high since they trounced Democrats in the November elections.

If he chooses option (a) -- if he and his party don't back off their pitched demand to fundamentally reshape the U.S. government -- the consequences they'd hope to avoid -- shutdowns and worse -- will become all but inevitable.

Also keep in mind how this shifts the negotiating leverage. If Boehner enters budget talks knowing he's already lost a huge chunk of his caucus and will need to pick up votes from House Dems, it means Boehner will have to eye an eventual deal that can satisfy the House minority and most of his own party.

Boehner would have preferred to ignore House Democrats. Thanks to his own caucus, that's no longer an option.

The GOP's far-right wing may not have thought about this, but they've made their Speaker weaker, not stronger, in advance of the next round of negotiations.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Of course, your analysis assumes Boehner actually cares whether or not the government is shut down. So far, I see no reason to believes that he wants to avert a shut down.

Posted by: TonyDogs on March 16, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think your report is based on the assumption that Boehner actually cares about getting a bill that will pass the Senate and be signed by the president.

I think Boehner and the Republicans believe that the public will blame the Democrats if the government shuts down and want to shut it down for that reason.

That leaves a compromise to a test of wills - chicken if you will. Who will veer off the road first?

Posted by: tomb on March 16, 2011 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

"The GOP's far-right wing may not have thought about this..."

"May?" You're too kind.

Posted by: Michael on March 16, 2011 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, Boehner doesn't want a shutdown. That would actually make lots of voters discover they need the gummint after all. The Dems have the winning hand. Keep calling the GOP's bluff.

Posted by: beejeez on March 16, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

The TeaParty wing of the Republicans have become the equivalent of the Blue Dogs in the Dem Party. Idealogues who care more about their ideal view of the world than the country they are suppose to serve. Standing by ones principles is an admirable trait, up to the point it you set your principles above everyone elses.

Posted by: T2 on March 16, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

You mean insisting on a pure position and refusing to compromise when you don't have the votes to pass that pure position might actually _weaken_ your side while trying to bargain?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on March 16, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure the Reps really care about "blame" for shutting down govt. Their voters aren't going to care. Has anyone heard anything from the WH about consequences of a shutdown for the wealthy (e.g. air travel shutdown without FAA, markets shutdown without SEC, imports and international travel prohibited without Customs, etc)? Obama will be forced to minimize the consequences of Republican vandalism, and that's right where they want him.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on March 16, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

You'd think the Congressmen from extremely Red Districts would be sympathetic to America's first "Orange-American Speaker."

But, well, orange ain't red enough now, is it?

It couldn't happen to a nicer martini swilling corporate whore.

You think Cantor doesn't know that a limp Boehner is his best ticket to the leadership.
But I'm not sure even he's shameless and craven enough.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 16, 2011 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

To be clear: now is an excellent time for the WH to be warning starkly about the consequences of a shutdown and raising those stakes as clearly as possible.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on March 16, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

With all due respect to Brian Beutler, the correct term is "zugzwang."

The essence of zugzwang is that your current position would be tenable if you had the option of simply not moving, but you don't have that option - and any move you make will put you in trouble. When you're in checkmate, even not moving wouldn't save you.

That's where Boehner is right now. If he didn't have to propose something to fund the government for the rest of the year, he'd be OK.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on March 16, 2011 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

This is merely Round One of the Republican Death Match between the Insane and the More Insane. Expect a lot more of these counter-productive battles in the coming year, culminating in the nomination of Palin/Bachmann next summer.

Pass the popcorn.

Posted by: danimal on March 16, 2011 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Boehner loves golf, women, drink, and deal-making. He's not Gingrich with his self-dramatizing sense of historic moment. He just wants to have fun. I'm not sure if there's any way you can reconcile tea-party zealotry and old-school politics. It's going to be interesting, needless to say. My bet: a new Speaker in 2013, say, Mike Pence.

Posted by: walt on March 16, 2011 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

ElegantFowl, the inconveniences of a government shutdown for wealthy folks is precisely why Boehner is very motivated not to have one. The rich aren't stupid. They'll know exactly who to blame for the disruptions to business as usual.

Posted by: beejeez on March 16, 2011 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP's far-right wing may not have thought about this

Republicans think? That would require they have brains with frontal lobes, and that is indeed "a fact not in evidence."

Republicans are that species of hairless biped found only in North America that lacks both frontal lobes and opposable thumbs: homo sap.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 16, 2011 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Option C: Democrats cave like a Chinese coal mine.

Posted by: martin on March 16, 2011 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

What is the vote total on the Dem side - ie, how many solid votes are there to vote against any more cuts + cuts to Planned parenthood and all the other crap the repups want to add? What are the vote totals if Nancy P whips a vote, vs. releasing dems to vote as they want?

Ie, if there are 150 dems who will not abide by any more cuts, etc., and there are currently 54 tpers on the repub side, then there only needs to be 14 more votes to kill a spending bill. It is a sliding scale, as you point out. The more of the 150 dem votes Boner boy gets, the more get added to the 54 repubs ...

tee hee.

Posted by: bigtuna on March 16, 2011 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

I am sorry in not having better news , but , if they are American rich they have a very strong chance of being exceedingly stoopit .
Boehner all American playboy (with other peoples money) , caught in mind stopping time warp . A time where , at last centuries halfway mark , those little yellow pills kept marriages together . While everyone overlooked the hysteria of WI's junior senator , little Johnny Boehner polished his art of overlooking anything that inconvenienced his patrons . Failing that another drink for America usually made all the difference the acute mind of our future Republican leader in training .
A master of the art of a smile , a handshake , and a round of golf . An insiders confidence that knowing the absolutely barest minimum of any affair of state , in any event , will either cover his A__ or be enough to bluff his way through to the next back slap .
It's in the training manual , lay back , relax , and do it to America .

Posted by: FRP on March 16, 2011 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

"Also keep in mind how this shifts the negotiating leverage".

That's certainly thinking positively, and I confess it is encouraging to see Weepy Orangeman (thank you, Hart Williams at His Vorpal Sword) tie himself in knots. However, I'd remind that if the Democrats had come out of the gate decisive and firm instead of conciliatory and sorry-you-lost-can-we-be-friends, they wouldn't be in the position where they had to worry about the dynamics of leverage. In fact, after bartering away the crushing strength the electorate gave them, it's still the Republicans making all the decisions - this new development simply results from their overstepping. It's not like the Democrats did something clever or declarative. They're just creeping in to snatch a bone or two.

It's fabulous if Boehner comes off looking like an indecisive and incompetent fuck, because he wanted the position purely for the power trip, and seeing it begin to sink in that it's actually work is amusing. But the Republicans are still driving the agenda the way they've always done, and the Democrats are still reacting to it, the way they've always done. I'm afraid I'm not overwhelmed to see them jumping on an opportunity that should never have arisen in the first place.

Posted by: Mark on March 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Can Pelosi negotiate maybe 15 billion in cuts of THEIR choice, get every Dem on board and garner just enough Republicans to pass it?

If they can, perhaps the 54 can see the light.
Give some ground or the Democrats will be the ones passing the bill.

Enough Republicans remember 1995 to make this plausible.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 16, 2011 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

And Boehner wanted to be Speaker. Be careful what you wish for.

Posted by: ET on March 16, 2011 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

The most amusing part of all, of course, is that the Democrats most likely to have sided with Boehner -- the Blue Dogs -- were decimated in the last election by, yes, these same teabaggers who are trying to block the legislation.

To continue with what ET said, one wonders if Boehner has a monkey's paw in his office.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 16, 2011 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Boehner has to compromise because there's a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House...

Are you sure?

What I have observed, so far, is that the dumbocraps and the Capitulator-In-Chief seem to think that it is a victory if they surrender in stages.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 16, 2011 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

If I were the Dems, I'd open the question up to the American people this way: Republicans are holding a gun to our heads. Unless we make their job-killing budget cuts, they refuse to raise the debt limit, which will plunge the country into default and unleash financial chaos. Should we let them destroy the jobs of 700,000 Americans, should we shut down the government or should Republicans back off? Democrats will do what the people want them to do.

Posted by: dalloway on March 16, 2011 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The name of the game is make the Democrats look bad; make them responsible for the government shutdown. If Boner can manage that he'll have won, no matter how much damage it does to the country or support for Congress.

The Rethugs don't care about governing. Don't we already know that? It's the blame game on steroids, and I wish the Dumbocrats knew how to play. To win, that is. They definitely know how to lose.

Posted by: rrk1 on March 16, 2011 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Ha, imagine these "no compromise" Tea Partiers actually shooting themselves in the foot, and forcing the Republican leadership to govern with LIBERALS! Who coulda saw that one coming? You'd almost have to have a brain to anticipate that!

Posted by: Lib on March 16, 2011 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK



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