Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that he will resign his seat and his position of power at the end of next month. There is absolutely no question that this is a momentous decision because of what it might portend.
By way of background, it should be understood that the House Tea Party Caucus, made up of about 50 members, has come to despise the outgoing Speaker. Why? Because they view him as insufficiently supportive of their ultra-conservative agenda for the country. Whereas they would shut down the federal government to have their demands met, Boehner has eventually come around to opposing them, even as he has allowed 50+ futile and utterly meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare.
With Boehner gone, there is a real power vacuum and the key question becomes “Who will fill it?” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has the inside track on the job. But, that same Tea Party Caucus will have something to say about that. In what would be the best of all possible worlds for them, one of their own would advance, if not to the Speaker’s position, then to at least lower positions of power like Majority Leader or Whip. The purpose of such maneuvering will be to impose their agenda on spending and domestic policy on the rest of the country, never mind that they represent a distinct minority of voters. (1)
Where House Democrats figure in all this is an interesting question? Whoever the nominees are for the Speaker’s chair, those on the left side of the aisle have a vote. That means that they can try to bargain with the candidate who they dislike the least, to get some concessions. Or, they can abstain, sit back and watch moderate and ultra-conservative Republicans fight it out among themselves, and take all the blame for whatever falls out.
Here are two possible scenarios from the coming election of the new Speaker.
(*) The new leader will steadfastly refuse to cater to the aforementioned Caucus as Boehner did so often. Bills will come to the floor for debate and a vote. What passes will be the result of a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans banding together to get things done and start government working again. It will be a case of a simple majority ruling. Imagine; how democratic!!! This scenario will materialize only if the new Speaker is a man of exceptional political courage who puts the nation ahead of party loyalty and unity; something that Boehner rarely managed.
(*) The new leader will secure the votes needed to win the Speakership by promising the Caucus he will allow them to advance their agenda absent significant impediment(s) on his part. Such an act of political cowardice will insure that we have a continuation of unending obstruction and gridlock.
As voters, we will have the opportunity to see how all this plays out prior to the November 2016 election. Looking at the foregoing scenarios, it is obvious what we need to have happen. To that end, it is imperative that we vote and do everything we can to insure the election of representatives who understand that governing and problem-solving involve compromise in place of rigid ideological obstruction. Indeed, that willingness to compromise ought to be a litmus test for earning your vote.
- You can get a real appreciation of just how broken our democracy is when just 50 out of 345 House members can bring governance to a grinding halt, year after year.