I was a bit baffled a week or so ago when Speaker Boehner and the Republicans made a big show of rushing their Plan B budget reconciliation bill to the floor only to withdraw it when it failed to garner enough votes from the TEA Party wing of the Republican Caucus. It seemed like a pointless maneuver, a vote on a bill that was dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sure, Boehner could hold a press conference and try to make it look like the GOP is moving the ball forward in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations while the Democrats play politics, or some such nonsense. But that seemed like a low return on what should have been a low risk play. The failure of Plan B, however, showed Boehner’s weakness and inability to control his TEA Party caucus, and his subsequent passing of the buck to the Obama Administration and the Senate to come up with a solution.
Of course someone didn’t read his Constitution, particularly the part where revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives (Article 1, Section 7). The President can propose a budget, but it has to become a bill written by the House. The Senate can pass a budget reconciliation bill to avert the Fiscal Cliff, or whatever it is. In fact, they did just that, but it’s meaningless, a purely symbolic gesture because revenue bills originate in the House.
What it comes down to is that the House must be an active participant in this process. They can’t wait for someone else to take the lead, and when it comes down to the House, it comes down to Boehner. Boehner is the speaker. Boehner chairs the rules committee. Nothing gets on the calendar without him. He can’t punt to the Democratic-held arms of the government because their power is constitutionally limited.
Of course, there’s another element at play here, and it makes for some intrigue. You see, if the House sends the Senate a bill, the Senate can strip everything out that they don’t like and fill it with the stuff that they want, pass it and send it back to the Conference Committee to hammer out the differences Suddenly that Senate bill becomes a bit less symbolic. This represents an out for Boehner, and it’s something that is in his nature as an establishment Republican. Make the deal. Move on.
I wonder if someone in the TEA Party caucus put that together and rallied the troops to block passage. This would have the impact of simultaneously denying the Senate a chance to send their bill to the conference committee and embarrassing Boehner prior to the formal reorganization of the House into the 113th Congress.
Or, did Boehner torpedo his own bill under the cover of the TEA Party caucus? Who would appoint conferees to the Conference Committee? Yep, John Boehner. The selection of the conferees would be telling. Does he send deal-makers like himself who will bring back a compromise, or does he send a bunch of TEA Party martyrs who would not compromise at all?
The former would solve the problem but ensure a TEA Party rebellion. The latter drives us over the cliff with the GOP looking like it’s putting party above country once again.
So what’s Boehner to do? I think his best move is to go over the cliff. He can satisfy the TEA Party Caucus long enough to get reelected speaker and then go back and make a deal. Of course, the risk is in the assumption that his speakership would survive a challenge in any case. If we go over the cliff and a TEA partier takes the speakership away from Boehner, we’re stuck with the results of the fiscal cliff, which really aren’t that horrible. They’re not great, but they wouldn’t be catastrophic and they are not irreversible.
Of course my dream scenario would be this. Nancy Pelosi quietly courts moderate Republicans who are alarmed by the radicalization of their party and really do want to see a deal made and the gridlock eased in Washington. If it appears that the TEA party is going to be in the driver’s seat, those Republicans become independents, caucus with the Democrats and elect a Democratic or independent speaker. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.
But I can always dream.