Boehner’s res­ig­na­tion of­fers many chal­lenges

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

J ohn Boehner ap­pears to have stunned ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing friends and al­lies, with his an­nounce­ment on Sept. 25 that he is leav­ing the post of speaker of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives — and also re­tir­ing from Congress. This con­cludes a tour of ser­vice in the top lead­er­ship post that has been es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult.

Boehner is a par­ti­san Repub­li­can but also a ded­i­cated leg­is­la­tor. He has rightly taken pride in get­ting the job done. That has meant com­pro­mise on oc­ca­sion with Democrats while work­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously to hold to­gether in­creas­ingly frac­tious House Repub­li­cans.

The Repub­li­can right wing con­tains zealots who can barely con­tain their glee that Boehner will soon be gone. The tea party may be fad­ing as an elec­toral force, but the un­com­pro­mis­ing move­ment re­mains highly in­flu­en­tial in Congress. Their out­look is es­sen­tially nar­row, short­sighted and ul­ti­mately coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for their party as well as the na­tion.

Sev­eral dozen stal­warts in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are fun­da­men­tally op­posed to gov­ern­ment, pe­riod. A shut­down is for them welcome, no mat­ter how in­con­ve­nient for work­ing peo­ple in gov­ern­ment, and in the wider econ­omy.

Right- wing Repub­li­cans had threat­ened to oust Boehner if he per­mit­ted a fed­eral bud­get to be passed which in­cluded fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood. Con­tro­ver­sial videos which al­lege a cal­lous at­ti­tude by that or­ga­ni­za­tion re­gard­ing use of fe­tuses greatly stoked the al­ways emo­tional de­bate over abor­tion.

In 2013, Repub­li­cans man­aged to shut down the gov­ern­ment for 16 days as part of the ef­fort to de­rail the Af­ford­able Care Act. Then and now, Democrats led by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama used the Repub­li­can ef­fort to po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. Boehner’s move makes a shut­down less likely.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion fur­ther in­creases the in­flu­ence of House Repub­li­cans who are able to get re­sults with­out open war­fare with the ide­o­logues. Con­gress­man Paul Ryan, chair­man of the ways and means com­mit­tee, likely will ac­cu­mu­late even more in­flu­ence. His gra­cious state­ment de­scrib­ing Boehner’s res­ig­na­tion as “an act of pure self­less­ness” sets the right tone.

With Repub­li­can tur­moil in the House, at­ten­tion turns to the Se­nate, and in par­tic­u­lar the role of Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell. He is rightly re­spected as a prag­matic and ef­fec­tive deal maker. Cur­rently he is press­ing a spend­ing bill which avoids de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood and funds the fed­eral gov­ern­ment into De­cem­ber.

The prac­tice of hold­ing the fed­eral bud­get hostage to con­tro­ver­sial par­ti­san party ma­neu­vers has now gone on for many years. In 1994, Repub­li­cans took con­trol of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives af­ter 40 years in mi­nor­ity sta­tus. Their ma­jor­ity was led by new Speaker of the House Newt Gin­grich, who dra­mat­i­cally ac­cel­er­ated the trend of shift­ing that of­fice from a rel­a­tively non­par­ti­san to highly par­ti­san pulpit.

Then as now, White House Democrats and Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans played an es­ca­lat­ing game of bud­getary chicken. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment was shut down briefly. In the po­lit­i­cal and public media ma­neu­ver­ing, Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton was able to put the onus squarely on the Gin­grich Repub­li­cans.

Pub­licly cool and po­lit­i­cally cun­ning, Clin­ton moved ahead in the public opin­ion polls. He was helped by em­pha­siz­ing fis­cal re­straint. In the 1996 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, he de­feated Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Sen­a­tor Bob Dole.

Demo­crat Sam Ray­burn of Texas re­mains the long­est-serv­ing speaker of the House. From the 1940s into the 1960s, he suc­cess­fully prac­ticed bi­par­ti­san­ship, de­spite the dif­fi­cult pol­i­tics of that era.

Ray­burn pos­sessed ex­cep­tional po­lit­i­cal skills. To­day’s Democrats and Repub­li­cans are more sharply sep­a­rated ide­o­log­i­cally, which makes lead­er­ship even harder. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War.” Con­tact him at acyr@ carthage.edu

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