John Boehner will soon be 66 years old and after 24 years in Congress it is likely that he would have retired after the completion of his current term in the House of Representatives. However, not long ago he made a surprise announcement that he will be resigning from Congress in mid term as soon as the House Republicans can persuade someone (decent) to replace him as Speaker of the House. There is no doubt that Boehner’s early retirement can be traced to his inability to control the 40 or so rowdy Tea Party zealots who call themselves the Freedom Caucus.
The Republicans own a large majority in the House with 247 members. However, without the support of the Freedom Caucus, whoever becomes the next Speaker of the House will probably be unable to muster the 218 Republican votes necessary to pass legislation without making a deal with the House Democrats – something no Republican Speaker can afford to do in the current environment without losing the respect of his caucus and the voters back home. While they make up less than 10% of the House members, the intransigence of the rowdy Freedom caucus continues to give them a stranglehold on their chamber’s legislative agenda.
Elected by their ultra conservative home districts, the Tea Party Representatives view politics through heavily distorted ideological lenses. They are not afraid to shut down the government over issues such as de-funding Obamacare or their current attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood. They are apparently not concerned about the nation as a whole, or even overly concerned about their party’s welfare; they only fear the fury of the anti-government voters back home if they don’t fight hard enough for their radical agenda. They will be the worst nightmare of the future Speaker of the House, whoever he may be.
Like Boehner, the future Speaker will be under tremendous pressure to bring this rowdy bunch to heel, an almost impossible task. Long branded the party of “No”, the majority party in the House didn’t impress the American public with their numerous quixotic attempts to de-fund the Affordable Health Care Act. The Republicans in the House and Senate must prove that they capable of using their majorities to actually govern if they want increase their party’s chances of winning the Presidency in 2016. They simply can’t afford to let the Freedom Caucus drag them into yet anther government shutdown.
There is no doubt John Boehner announced he was retiring early to give himself the freedom to cobble together the votes necessary to pass the continuing funding resolution required to avoid the government shut down which the Rowdy Bunch was trying to orchestrate in late September. That freedom came from the fact that Boehner no longer had anything to lose by facing down the Freedom Caucus and making a deal with the Democrats in the House to keep the federal government operating. A continuing resolution with no controversial riders passed in the House with only 176 Republicans voting for it. They were joined by 143 Democrats while 56 Republicans (and all of the Rowdy Bunch) voted against the measure. The less dysfunctional Senate passed the bill 78-22 and the President provided his signature.
However, that continuing resolution expires on December 11th so the situation will soon revert back to the same one that Boehner faced in September. In addition, sooner or later the House will have to pass appropriations legislation, instead of just another continuing resolution, to fund the government for yet another year. It has to be a funding bill which Senate can also pass and the President will sign. That means the bill must contain funding for Planned Parenthood, a provision the Freedom Caucus has vowed to oppose again at any cost. In addition, the Department of the Treasury has lately estimated that the country will exceed the national debt ceiling limit on or about Thursday, November 7th. That has now becomes a new deadline for both Houses of Congress to pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling in order to keep the government running. This will provide the Rowdy Bunch with yet another opportunity to bring most of government’s operations to a screeching halt.
No wonder no prominent Republican Congressman wants be Speaker of the House. Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader who was the top candidate for the job, abruptly removed his name from consideration when he determined that he did not have the support of the Freedom Caucus, meaning that he would inherit the same problems that Boehner faced. Who in his right mind would want a job which is essentially the political equivalent of herding cats? Maybe the Republicans can talk Paul Ryan into taking over the Speakership “for the good of the Party”, but you don’t have to be psychic to detect that Ryan really doesn’t want the job under the present conditions. For more information on his reluctance take the Speaker’s chair you can refer to: Paul Ryan’s Choice: Speaker or Sanity?
Nobody is asking me of course, but I think the Republican’s best bet is to delay the vote to name a new Speaker until early 2016. Boehner would most probably agree to stay on until then. Given his “can’t lose” situation, he is in the best position to keep the Freedom Caucus at bay until he is able to work out suitable compromises with the House Democrats to pass the yearly appropriations bill and raise the debt ceiling. If Boehner can accomplish both of those feats, the risk of a government shutdown will have been averted for anther year and then he can retire on a high note as the statesman he has always wanted to be.
Regardless of which strategy the House Republican leadership chooses to use in the months ahead, and regardless of which Republican ultimately inherits the mantel of House leadership from John Boehner, the Rowdy Bunch will continue to do their best to ensure that nothing of any value gets done Washington. We might snidely comment that they are continuing to put their election chances ahead the best interests of their party and their country. However, they would counter that they are only doing exactly what the people who elected them sent them to Washington to do, and that my friends is a sad state of affairs.