John Boehner’s Astonishing Miscalculation

Speaker of the House John Boehner appears to have made an astonishing miscalculation in his legislative strategy, designing proposed legislation to be viable only in a 100% party-line vote, even though as many as 120 of his own members have vowed not to support raising the debt ceiling.

Speaker Boehner would need to round up only 21 Republican votes to pass a Democratic or bipartisan plan emerging from the Senate, were he able to rely on all of the Democratic members of the House. It would seem a more reasonable political calculation to work with the party that wants to make a deal than to struggle against all odds to win support from those who have vowed not to give it.

Democratic whip Steny Hoyer put it succinctly, quipping tonight that “The party of no is saying no to their own policy.” He added that the Republican policy of making radical demands in order to avoid default “is an immoral policy”. Hoyer said tonight “I’ve been in Congress 30 years, and I don’t know that I’ve been as concerned about the welfare of my country as I am tonight.”

Independent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders said tonight that “what is going on in the House right now is a disgrace and an outrage”. He asked how it could be that “the Congress is so far removed from what the American people want”, citing surveys that show people don’t want the deep cuts to entitlement programs now under consideration and that they do want taxes to rise for those earning more than $250,000 a year.

Speaker Boehner has not only failed to bring a viable piece of legislation to a vote, putting the nation’s fiscal integrity at risk, but he has managed the debt negotiations in a manner that has left the American public with the distinct impression that his party is not serious about solving the debt crisis.

And yet, there is a subtler way in which Boehner’s miscalculation could also harm his party. As the pressure mounts to make a deal, it becomes clearer that everyone is waiting for Tea Party radicals in the Republican party to decide whether or not the nation should be plunged into economic calamity, in service of ideological policy preferences.

That will obviously reflect badly on the Tea Party members involved in the standoff, but it will also make it harder for Republicans more broadly to win in 2012. Boehner could have avoided this crisis for the nation, and for his party, by working across the aisle, by letting the radicals know, with the same firm language he has used this week to demand cooperation, that he will not be held hostage and they can choose to make themselves relevant or not.

Boehner could have shown himself to be a statesman by cobbling together a “coalition of the willing”, comprised of moderates in both parties. Such a move would have elevated him as leader of the entire House of Representatives, worthy of the third highest office in the Constitutional order.

Instead, Mr. Boehner’s astonishing miscalculation now appears to have the nation hurdling toward debt default, credit downgrade, forced recession, and massive job loss, and his party torn and divided, his speakership in question, and Republican electoral chances sliding, by the day.

There is no constructive outcome to be gained from this debacle, and no clear way to explain why Mr. Boehner and his caucus would push the issue so far as to lose on so many fronts at the same time.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, and Democrats in the House, increasingly aware that Mr. Boehner will likely need Democratic votes to raise the debt ceiling, are reminding Mr. Boehner that the “grand bargain”, which would include new revenues, is still available. It is believed some version of that deal, with between $800 billion and $2 trillion in new revenues, could pass both houses, if Boehner can wrangle enough Republicans to vote with Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic minority.

At 10:27 pm, Rep. McCarthy, the House Republican whip, announced there would be no vote on the “Boehner bill” this evening. That marks four consecutive days that Mr. Boehner has been unable to get a vote on a piece of legislation that no one believes can pass the Senate.