Averting Calamity Comes Down to Boehner’s Leadership Skills

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 23, 2013 at 4:43pm

The health of the U.S. economy depends on the legislative skill — and the courage — of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

It’s up to him to prevent a shutdown of the U.S. government at the end of this month and, a little later, the first-ever default on the national debt.

If he succeeds, he can prevent the economy from slipping back into recession — or, if we do default, possibly triggering a catastrophic new financial crisis.

But in the process, he will have to prove himself to be Master of the House — and may have to risk being toppled from office by furious tea party conservatives and their allied outside claques.

Boehner clearly understands that Republicans can’t stop Obamacare funding. The Senate won’t abide it and Obama would veto any effort to kill or maim his signature presidential accomplishment.

So, earlier this month he tried to pass legislation extending government funding into December without a link to Obamacare but was rebuffed by fellow Republicans.

Forty to 50 tea party jihadi would rather lay waste  to the U.S. economy than violate their idea of “constitutional” purity.

So Boehner caved and last week the House passed a funding extender calling for Obamacare defunding. All but one Republican voted for it, even though it’s clear Obamacare implementation can’t be defunded in this legislation. Most of it is already paid for in the legislation that established it, and Obama could declare the program an “essential” government function exempt from the shutdown.

Not much harm was done except to once again expose Republicans as obsessed with ending Obamacare — a program they constantly say will prove a “train wreck.” If this is the case, by the way, an angry public will punish Democrats without Republicans lifting a finger.

The House has voted 40-odd times now to end Obamacare and now conservative groups are agitating to discourage uninsured people from signing up for it — all of which suggests the GOP really fears it will work well enough to be popular and help Democrats.

Their sabotage efforts look, as Obama charges, entirely political.

Boehner’s first moment of truth comes when the Senate sends back a funding bill that does not repeal Obamacare and appropriates money in excess of the levels provided in the sequester.

If Boehner is amazingly successful — a true Master of the House — he’ll get 218 Republicans (out of 233) to swallow Obamacare funding and keep the government open without relying on Democratic votes.

But he won’t be able to do that because tea party members won’t go along.

That leaves 190 to 200 who ought to be subject to Boehner’s persuasion that Obamacare can’t be defunded and that, if the government shuts down, Republicans will get the blame.

To whatever extent he can’t persuade Republicans, though, he’ll have to rely on Democrats to get to 218 votes — possibly a lot of them.

The tea party will be outraged. Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Jim DeMint’s Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and Mark Levin will be calling for Boenher’s ouster. I doubt 121 House Republicans will go along, but he has to risk it.

And then he has to do it all over again to raise the debt ceiling without a provision delaying Obamacare, which also has no chance of passing.

It’s perfectly reasonable — and has lots of historic precedent — for Republicans to use the debt limit as a vehicle for limiting entitlement spending. But the Republicans have made so much noise about Obamacare that, if the government can’t pay its bills, the GOP will get the blame for the consequences, which could be dire.

If Bohener relies on Democratic votes to pass both the funding extension and raise the debt limit, the jihadis will be after his scalp for sure.

But he will have saved the country from disaster and his party from getting the blame. He’ll be a statesman. The media, some of it, may even give him credit.