John Boehner Is Adrift

At this point, I'm starting to get the feeling that John Boehner spends a good portion of each day sitting around in his office with a bunch of aides as they all stare at the ceiling. "Anybody got any ideas yet?" he says periodically. "No?" Heavy sigh.

Every couple of days they come up with something, float it to reporters, and find that it only serves to confuse things, to the point that nobody knows what they're demanding anymore. First they'd only open the government and raise the debt ceiling if the Affordable Care Act were defunded. When that didn't fly, they suggested they'd release the hostages if the ACA were delayed for a year. No go on that, so they suggested that they'd accept some kind of "grand bargain" as long as it included "entitlement reform," which is Republican code for cutting Social Security and Medicare. Nope. Then they said they'd take some package of unnamed budget cuts and tax cuts. They aren't getting that either, and now it seems they've finally come to terms with the fact that when President Obama says he isn't going to pay any ransom, he means it.

So the latest proposal is that they'll allow an extension of the debt ceiling, for ... six whole weeks! During which time they'll still be holding the government hostage, but will temporarily delay defaulting on the debt. The question is, to what end? What is supposed to happen in that time? Is President Obama going to change his position and decide that he'll give in to their demands after all? is the public going to decide that they're a bunch of reasonable fellows who should be rewarded for this nightmare with a chance to govern the country? What?

I suspect the answer is this: They have no idea. As Chris Hayes tweeted earlier today, it seems that "Boehner's only goal on any given day is just to survive that day." In a similar vein, Jonathan Chait wrote, "Here's the best rule for determining what John Boehner will do in any situation: If there is a way for him to delay a moment of confrontation or political risk, he will do it." Boehner is just not equipped to deal with this situation. Maybe nobody could, but Boehner cut his political teeth at a time when these things could be worked out between gentlemen. You go out on the golf course or into the (literally) smoke-filled room, and have a frank discussion about what everybody wants and what they're willing to give. Then you find a way to make it happen—you can have a new bridge in your district, that guy can have a plumb committee assignment, I'll promise to do a fundraiser for that other guy. The votes add up one by one, and eventually the deal is done. But those rules don't apply anymore, not with this Republican caucus and not in this situation.

One thing we can be sure of us that Boehner has no plan. He's making this up as he goes along. The White House has a plan, which is not to make the same mistake they made before of negotiating over the debt ceiling. They're just not paying the ransom, period. It's a pretty good plan for a number of reasons, and it means they don't wake up every day of the crisis wondering what the hell they're going to do or say that day. But Boehner is utterly adrift. You get the feeling he's waiting for some deus ex machina to fly down from above and save his bacon at the last minute.

Maybe the White House will accept this proposal for a six-week debt-ceiling extension. But that brings us no closer to an end to the crisis. And it brings Boehner no closer to an end to his nightmare.

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