Boehner’s Debt Ceiling Problem--And Obama’s

Boehner's governing style makes no sense. But really neither does the president's.

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So the House Republicans last night finally managed to pass a version of John Boehner’s budget plan, or as some might call it, “Cut, Cap, and Balance, Mark II.” The Senate quickly dispensed with the bill, tabling it with a bipartisan vote. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein raises a good point about the bill vis a vis Boehner’s leadership, or lack thereof.

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There is exactly one question worth asking now: What is the debt-ceiling compromise that can win the support of the House, Senate and the White House? That means winning the support of Democrats as well as Republicans. That’s what every effort in every chamber should be oriented toward. Instead, Boehner has spent the past two days wasting his political capital assembling an irrelevant coalition of conservatives.

When Nancy Pelosi served as Speaker of the House, her job was conditioning her members for disappointment. It was Pelosi who had to bring them around to a Senate-designed health-care law that lacked a public option, a cap-and-trade bill that gave away most of its permits, a stimulus that did too little, a bank bailout that endangered their careers. Pelosi had to do that because, well, that’s what the speaker of the House has to do. To govern is to compromise. And when you’re in charge, you have to govern.

And remember that’s when Pelosi was part of a Democratic governing coalition that controlled both branches of Congress and the White House. Boehner is operating with a majority in one chamber of Congress, a circumstance under which compromise is harder to achieve—and he’s been indulging the wild-eyes in his conference in the fantasy that to govern is in fact not to compromise but to hold your breath—or in the current context, the national economy’s breath—until you get your way. [See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Of course Boehner and the crazies are not completely blameless in this. President Obama’s fixation on achieving a deal has led him to repeatedly cross his own lines in the sand: First he wanted a clean bill … until he was willing to attach it to cuts in spending; then he absolutely insisted that a deficit plan had to be balanced and include revenue increases … until it didn’t have to. With all the ground he’s given thus far in the name of compromise, why should conservatives expect that Obama will do anything but accede to their demands and hail that as a compromise finally achieved?