After a humble speech, the acceptance of an oversized gavel and calls for bipartisanship in Washington, Rep. John Boehner took his position as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. While there is little doubt that the man from Ohio known for shedding tears at a moment's notice will remain humble, there are certainly questions as to how long those bipartisanship feelings will remain.
The possibility of a rapid deterioration of Boehner's bipartisan rhetoric will not be caused by his own flip-flopping, but by the reality of his situation. Boehner is in a tough spot. He ascended to the speaker position on a wave of Tea Party excitement and disillusionment with Democrats cast as big government spenders. But everything Boehner's new House of Representatives passes will be subject to either rejection by the Democratic-controlled Senate or a veto from President Obama.
So he faces a choice: Does he appease his new Tea Party base while having everything that group calls for rejected after it clears the House, or does he try to strike a middle ground? If he goes the Tea Party route, he has the built-in excuse: "I've tried my hardest, but the Senate and White House stopped everything we did." If he strikes a middle ground, there is a distinct possibility that all the credit will be taken by Democrats (see START treaty of 2010 and the tax extension of 2010) with the 2012 elections likely to swing back in their favor. Boehner is in a tough spot, and crying won't get him out of it.
So what are the early signs of the speaker's chosen path? It seems as though the health care bill of 2010 will be subject to a vote to repeal it. But, as noted above, a straight repeal won’t clear the Senate and certainly won’t survive a presidential veto. Then there/s the possibility of defunding the health care bill. That may be realistic, as House Republicans do control the federal government's wallet. But do Republicans think that these issues — removing rejection protection for pre-existing conditions, keeping young adults from remaining on their parents' insurance, and halting the expansion of who can be covered — are winning issues? Perhaps they do, and perhaps they will move forward with that plan, but it will simply cause more gridlock. That is exactly what voters from the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Tea Party don’t want.
Boehner is likely to lead the House’s first mission against health care, which may be a bone to throw to his new base. If that's the first step, what's the second step? It might be to reduce the federal budget and to shrink our national debt. Then there is the business of reducing the executive branch’s power. This means taking on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its plans to regulate greenhouse gasses. (I know, it took me a long time to get that point.) This is something that Boehner will probably support, as he comes from a coal state, but it is yet another issue that is unlikely to withstand a presidential veto, even if it does make it through the Senate. Still, it may appease his base even if it accomplishes nothing.
This is the dilemma of John Boehner and his giant gavel. The reality of his situation is one in which he must choose either to compromise and get things accomplished or to stand by his conservative base and risk continuing the gridlock that so many Americans have rejected. Ironically, those same voters chose to put Boehner in power to fight the gridlock. Only in America can an elected official’s choose be between doing something and risking future political loss or doing nothing and remaining in power.
It’s a silly reality. No wonder Boehner cries so much.