Last night, rebellious Republican congressmen sent Plan B to outer space, banished their speaker to the corner and sent a message to the American people that yes, we really are this crazy.
In the end, voting for permanent tax cuts for 99.81 percent of Americans turned out to be unacceptable to those obsessed with maintaining 100 percent ideological purity. Downtrodden millionaires and billionaires must be protected, whatever the cost.
Afterward, Speaker John Boehner seemed to throw up his hands in frustration at his own caucus.
“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said in a prepared statement. “Now it is up to the president to work with Sen. Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.”
Boehner made no public statement and took no questions.
On critical issues of taxation and spending, this represents an enormous loss of clout for Boehner. To get future fiscal-cliff legislation through the House, he will now have to rely upon votes from both Republicans and Democrats — and probably more Democrats than Republicans. That in turn will make Nancy Pelosi his de facto co-speaker, with the two leaders trying to cobble together enough moderate votes from their parties to do the nation’s business.
It will be interesting to see whether Boehner’s fellow Republicans tolerate him playing that role, tolerance not being one of their strong points. And after the fiscal cliff will come the looming need to raise the debt ceiling, a vote that now becomes fraught with even more danger for Republicans. There too, it’s now clear that Boehner will have to turn to Pelosi and her caucus for votes, increasing the odds of a dramatic cleavage within the House GOP.
It’s also important to note that conservative bravado notwithstanding, refusing to pass such legislation is not an option. It will pass because it must pass. The House may vote no once. It may vote no twice. But eventually, it will vote yes. It is only a question of how much damage the conservatives are willing to do to their party and their country as they play out their Samson Complex, intent on pulling the whole corrupt, Philistine temple down around their ears rather than compromise.
In that sense, the serenity prayer offered by Boehner in last night’s private GOP caucus was a rare touch of poetry from the saloon-keeper’s son:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
As last night demonstrated, such wisdom is in pitifully short supply right now. Republicans find themselves divided and in retreat, pitted against a president whose approval/disapproval ratings now stand at 56/37. Perhaps more important, they are playing out their dysfunction in front of a citizenry already inclined to see the GOP as extremist and unwilling to bend for the good of the country.
Asked last night whether Boehner deserves blame for this failure, U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, Boehner’s fellow Ohioan, was blunt in rejecting the notion:
“It’s like saying the superintendent of an insane asylum should be discharged because he couldn’t control the crazy people. That’s nuts.”
Then again, isn’t it the job of the superintendent to control the crazy people?
LaTourette is an interesting figure. He was first elected to the House in 1994, part of the Gingrich wave that gave the GOP its first House majority in half a century. But the party’s hard move to the right has left him frustrated, and this year he declined to run for re-election. That has given him the freedom to utter hard, difficult truths.
“It weakens the entire Republican Party…,” he said after last night’s disaster. “It’s the continuing dumbing down of the Republican Party, and we are going to be seen more and more as a bunch of extremists that can’t even get a majority of our people to support our own policies that we’re putting forward. If you’re not a governing majority, you’re not going to be a majority very long.”
– Jay Bookman