The beginning of the end for Speaker Boehner
For the last two years when the Republicans were out of power, John Boehner was the point person. He argued against every single agenda item with the simple retort: Where are the jobs?
He focused his and fellow Republicans’ approach on criticizing Democrats on the economy, the main issue Americans care about in this climate. For the last two years, he constantly argued that Republican policies would improve economic conditions.
As unemployment has not rebounded to an acceptable level, Americans voted for Republicans, elevating John Boehner to Speaker of the House and giving him a major seat at the decision making table. As the leader of the only Republican-controlled body, he serves as the face of the Republican party.
Unfortunately for Boehner, he actually has to try to solve problems rather than simply criticizing, and one issue he promised to work on, fixing the federal budget deficit, is tough to find a solution for. While doing this, he must please two different and critical electoral groups: moderates or swing voters, the key electoral group especially in 2012, and the far more ideologically conservative Tea Party, who put him in the Speakership and could easily take him out of it.
Republican proposals cut programs all over the place but did so in an ideological way. The budget goes after public sector employees like teachers and police officers. Some say the GOP budget would cut 800,000 jobs. Boehner dismissed these job loses with a “so be it,” hardly the man of the “jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign. Additionally, Republicans went after sexual education and pro-choice groups, a small part of the budget, especially when compared to defense spending, a favorite of Republicans that did not get touched.
On the other hand, President Obama outlined significant spending cuts in his budget, but did so without a massive ideological bias by spreading the pain. The President’s budget massively cuts programs that he cares deeply about, such as community-development funding and home heating assistance for the poor. Unlike the Republican budget, he shares the pain rather than focusing it on programs preferred by the opposition. Republicans instead brought up social issues that have helped Republicans in the past but alienate independents who voted for the economic improvements Republicans promised, not divisive issues irrelevant to the economy.
The Republican budget hardly pleased the new Tea Party freshmen Representatives, but they will accept this budget. Unfortunately for Boehner, the budget fight is gearing up. The Republicans are unwilling to budge from their positions and the President is unwilling to sign such a biased budget. This showdown could lead to a government shutdown, something the Tea Party may accept or even prefer, but would infuriate independents, as keeping the government running is seen as a basic governing task.
There is precedent for a shutdown and its political implications. In 1995, Republican Newt Gingrich became Speaker, ending a period of united Democratic rule. Gingrich refused to compromise on the budget with President Clinton, and the result was a government shutdown. Gingrich received the vast majority of the blame and never recovered in the polls. His popularity fell so badly that he had to suppress a coup within his own party. Clinton cruised to reelection despite massive midterm losses and previously poor approval ratings.
This situation has obvious similarities to the current times, and Boehner should know, considering Boehner lead the coup against Gingrich. Unlike with Gingrich, Boehner’s freshmen majority makers have more independence and will push Boehner further to the right and farther away from a deal that would prevent a government shutdown. This could potentially lead to a longer shutdown that would stop everything from sending out social security checks to suspend mail services, angering every American.
Speaker Boehner’s current situation forces him to choose between two critical groups. With major Republican talks about a government shutdown, its clear the Tea Party has the new Speaker’s ear. However, if he continues to listen to the Tea Party, he will lose his party’s independent voters and his new position with them.