The Ideal Speaker of the House: The Vomit Bird

House Republicans are putting ideology ahead of responsibility, and it's nauseating

House Speaker John Boehner shows off his new gavel after being elected speaker, Jan. 5, 2011.

Last week, as most Republicans were going through the desultory process of returning John Boehner to the speaker's chair, some brave souls offered a handful of alternatives. You remember ... a couple cast their votes for Allen West (who had already been voted out of Congress). One suggested former U.S. Comptroller David Walker (who's never been a member of Congress at all).

I didn't think much of it at the time, but the dysfunction on display in the Republican caucus these days is making me reconsider. I mean really, why not reach outside Congress to find someone else to lead? One could hardly do worse.

So as a service to our country, I have come up with the following modest proposal for House reform: replace the Speaker with a Coracias garrulus. That's right. For lack of a more delicate term, it's the vomit bird.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

You see, when Coracias garrulus senses danger the little darlings throw up all over themselves. Usually, it makes them a less delectable treat for predators, but put one up on the dais and it's hard to imagine a more accurate physical manifestation of how many of us are feeling about the goings on in the House these days. Just imagine: the Honorable Jim Jordan of Ohio rises to offer an amendment and ... Speaker Coracias garrulus shares his lunch.

Now to be clear: I'm a fan of the House. I worked there for four years. I think it's a place where good people of all ideological stripes can do important things for the country.

But look at what's coming over the next few months. It seems like only yesterday we were debating whether to raise the debt ceiling but here we are back at it again. And already, Republicans are parroting their party line: "when the President asks us to raise the debt ceiling, we'll only do it if we get deep spending cuts in return."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

When the President asks you? The debt ceiling reflects spending that the House approved all on its own. No one is asking you to pay for it, dear Republican friends, any more than your credit card bill is the opening move in a negotiation.You rang up the debt and now its time for you to pay.

And there's something more. The spending that some on the Hill find so objectionable was spent, for better or worse, as an expression of our democratic process. The country elected representatives who went to Washington and tussled about this program or that, funded the ones that survived and did so in their capacity as representatives of the people who elected them. We may not like their decisions and, if we don't, we have avenues to try and change them—public pressure, for example, or the next election. But having lost on the merits, some Republicans seem intent on sidestepping the ordinary avenues of legislative change to instead use a sort of bureaucratic slight of hand to replace the will of the people with the will of an extreme minority.

[See 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

What's been lost here is recognition that there's something bigger about being a member of Congress than clinging to your preciously held ideological beliefs: It's a responsibility to ensure that our government operates according to our basic democratic principles. And it's hard to imagine a course of action more fundamentally undemocratic than the one being contemplated by some on the Hill.

And that's enough to make anyone want to throw up. Give that bird a gavel.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Climate Change—Not the Budget—Is Washington's Biggest Challenge
  • Read Peter Roff: Obama, Boehner, and the Coming Fight Over the Debt Ceiling
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