John Boehner Can Be the Hero

The speaker should build a coalition with Democrats and rational Republicans.

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The United States doesn't have a parliamentary system on paper, but the reality in Congress is starting to look like it. Today there are (at least) three parties in the U.S. House of Representatives: Democrats are the liberals, rational Republicans are the conservatives and tea party Republicans are the anti-government radicals.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, currently leads a coalition of rational Republicans and tea party Republicans which is not working. It's hard to govern alongside a party of anti-government types. If Boehner and the rational Republicans hope to have anything to show for the current Congress, they need a new coalition partner. 

The speaker should cut a deal with President Barack Obama and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats to protect his speakership from a tea party revolt through the 2014 election. In return,  he would throw out the so-called Hastert Rule that requires a majority of Republicans to support pending legislation to have a vote.

There is no partisan requirement for electing a speaker, so he should build a new coalition of Democrats and rational Republicans. With three vacant seats, Boehner would need at least 17 rational Republicans who have had enough of the suicidal tea party Republicans to remain loyal. That's one more than the number of GOP members elected in districts Barack Obama won in 2012. Surely there are more Republicans than that looking to distance themselves from their current crazy coalition partners.

In 1995, California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown orchestrated a similar deal after Republicans won the majority. He delivered all of the Democrats and a few Republicans to vote for Orange County Republican Doris Allen to be speaker and in return was elected Speaker Emeritus, a title that previously had not existed.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the government shutdown.]

This deal wouldn't mean that Boehner would become a Democratic puppet. There are legislative priorities important to both parties he could pursue beyond funding the government. The first vote of the rational Republicans and their Democratic allies would be to raise the debt ceiling. As a show of good faith, the new bipartisan majority might repeal the medical device tax, a GOP priority in the current funding fight. Soon after, the House could pass an immigration bill that would help change the GOP image with the growing Latino population. Tax reform, another Republican priority, might finally be possible too. Basically, the government would function, improving the reputations of both the president and the Congress.  

The alternative is American politicians continue to look like a bunch of dopes. The most powerful country in the world can't fund itself. President Obama is in the middle of negotiating with the Iranians over nuclear material and Syrians over chemical weapons. This is important stuff. Meanwhile, government officials are juggling which international meetings to attend like low-wage workers deciding which bills to pay to keep the lights on and car from being repossessed. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

John Boehner would be an American hero if he pursued this path, though it would probably mean the end of his tenure as speaker, eventually. Either the Democrats would win a majority in the 2014 election and return Pelosi to the speaker's chair or the new Republican majority would elect a new speaker. Either way, Boehner would undoubtedly face a primary opponent next year. The California experiment didn't last long either.

So what? The country needs Boehner to be a statesman. We revere the Founding Fathers not just because they wrote a brilliant Constitution, but because they risked their lives and treasures for representative democracy. What could be more patriotic?

Boehner would cement his reputation in American history as a hero of the republic, unlike the cowering kitten he appears to be today. Media would laud him. The John F. Kennedy Library would give him a Profile in Courage Award. President Obama should bestow the Medal of Freedom upon him, America's highest civilian honor. Otherwise Boehner's historical significance would continue to shrink every day he fails to govern the House effectively.

In Silicon Valley, there is nothing more prized than disrupting an old paradigm and finding more value for consumers. John Boehner should disrupt Congress.

  • Read Robert Schlesinger: Why a Government Shutdown? Ask the Obamacare-Obsessed GOP
  • Read Jamie Chandler: A Government Shutdown Would Show Just How Silly Congress Has Become
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