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John Boehner "Comes to Himself"

Updated on December 20, 2013

Pivoting to commonsense leadership style, John Boehner passes a two-year bipartisan budget through the House

Before closing the House of Representatives for Christmas break, Speaker John A. Boehner pushed through a two year bipartisan budget deal, signaling a change in his governing style. Written by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Republican) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (Democrat), the budget provides “$63 billion in temporary sequester relief and $85 billion in mandatory savings,” their press release says. The additional spending is offset by $34 billion in revenue increases and $51 billion in spending reduction. “On net,” it says, “the bill will reduce the deficit by $23 billion over the next ten years.”

Representatives on both sides of the aisle made it clear that they did not get all they wanted, but they got the best deal they could with a divided government. Republicans argue that it is a retreat from the victory they had already won on cutting the deficit. Democrats argue that taxes on the rich should have been raised, and an extension on the unemployment insurance should have been included.

Like the prodigal son in the Holy Writ, John Boehner “came to himself” and brought the bill to the floor for a vote, breaking the Hastert Rule that had hindered him in the past from bringing a bill to the floor when the majority of his party opposed it.

Here, Boehner’s epiphany will be explored in the framework of the biblical parable of the prodigal son.

“And took his journey into a far country”

In 2010, the angry, newly-formed tea party sent to the House of Representatives a “gang” that gave the House a super majority, leading to Boehner’s election as Speaker. Ever since that time, he has been hamstrung by the tea-party, who seems determined not to compromise on tea-party goals. In February 2011, when Congress debated the issue of raising the debt ceiling, the tea party held out so long that it led to a downgrade of the AAA rating.

In such atmosphere, nothing could get accomplished without brinkmanship. At times, Boehner showed signs that he wanted to cut a deal, but the contentious tea party members would not bend a bit. For example, it was reported that President Obama spent weeks behind closed doors with Boehner, crafting what was called a “grand bargain,” but the tea party caucus would not buy it. In order to pass the Budget Control Act in 2011, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden agreed on $2.3 trillion deficit reduction, which included what came to be known as “the sequester.”

Embolden by the win, Boehner chose to abandon commonsense governing and live in the land of the “crazy,” carrying the ball for the so-called “crazies,” which caused the government to lurch from crisis to crisis.

“And when he came to himself”

The Government shutdown in October caused Boehner to rethink his predicament. Before the shutdown, he spent months trying to avoid it, according to Politico, but “despite his backroom pleas and carefully crafted strategies, he was unable to convince [the] hard-line faction of the House GOP lawmakers that they should save their legislature brawls for the debt ceiling fight.” Not able to reach a deal that hardliners would support, the government was shut down for 16 days and cost between $2 billion and $6 billion in economic output, according to an Office of Management and Budget report.

After the shutdown began, the Speaker led the house to pass bill after bill to lessen the impact, but, in most cases, the Senate would not go along. Finally, Mich McConnell negotiated a deal and the Senate passed it and sent it to the House. Depending upon Democratic votes, Boehner brought to the floor and passed a $986 billion Senate bill that funded the government for three-months.

The agreement included passing a budget within that time. But before the bipartisan bill, crafted by Ryan and Murray, was presented to House members and posted for reading, outside conservatives groups opposed it. Angered by such, Boehner came to himself and took to the airways and slammed them, saying “They are using our members, and they are using the American people for their own goals.” Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote: “John Boehner is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.”

Boehner’s words stood in stark contrast to what he had been saying for the past three years. So “why is Boehner now so willing to deride and taunt the groups whose outsized influence has stoked the already-testy relationship between him and his caucus’s right wing?” This Week article asks. The answers given: “The GOP got creamed in the government shutdown.” The party’s approval rating is in the tank. The shutdown “was the culmination of three years of Tea Party intransigence that repeatedly scuttled Boehner’s legislative efforts and imperiled his job.” And he had a “new-found conservative shield…in Paul Ryan.” These are some of the reasons Boehner came to himself and derided the tea party, according to the article.

The foremost thing here is now why he came to himself but that he did, passing through the House a two-year bipartisan budget bill by 332 to 94, with 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats voting for it and 62 Republicans and 32 Democrats voting against. The Senate, on Wednesday, passed the bill 64 to 36.

“And he arose, and came to his father”

John Boehner’s returning to his Republican establishment status and passing the bill should have been met with hallelujahs; instead it was met with mixed responses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised him, saying “I think it was a breath of fresh air,” he said in a press conference.

The White House released a statement saying the deal “a positive step forward for the nation and the economy.” But it emphasized that the bill does not include everything the President wanted but “marks an important moment of bipartisan cooperation and shows that Washington can and should stop governing by crisis…”

The right wing responded negatively. Republican Senator Ran Paul said the bill is a “charade” and is “worse than the status quo, which is already at an unacceptable level of spending and debt. It is not a budget deal; it is surrender. It is a cave in. It is a shame,” according to The Washington Post. Sarah Palin chimed in with a threat, not only to Boehner but to all who support the bill. “2014 is just around the corner,” she said. “If any member of Congress thinks raising taxes and increasing spending is a winning strategy to run on, then, by all means, they should vote for the Ryan Budget. We’ll be watching,” The Washington Post reported.

Tea party members called the deal elitist and a declaration of war. “It’s just another example of D.C. elitism,” Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, told ABC News reporter Abby Philip. “It’s sad that this conflict has broken out into a civil war,” wrote Daniel Harowitz, Policy Director of the Madison Project. “There can be no reconciliation between those who seek power and those who seek to serve in order to restore our Republic.”

Senator Marco Rubio opposed the bill because it will create a crisis that will shut down the government for good, he told Fox News. “I don’t want a government shutdown, and that’s why I oppose the deal because I think this budget actually contributes to the day that we are going to have a real shutdown of government, not because Congress can’t pass a law, but because we have a debt crisis.”

The Club for Growth responded: “We stand with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, members of the Republican Study Committee and every other fiscal conservative who opposes…the deal.”

Overall, the country should be grateful that John Boehner got fed up with tea partiers, who seem be hell-bent on destroying the government and demeaning the President. Coming to himself and passing the budget deal, he may have saved the nation and the Republican Party—and even himself.

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