We have to wonder what inner stamina John Boehner brings to bear to sustain him. It can't be easy. And what looks for all the world like strain is beginning to show itself.
President Obama made offers last July as Republicans held the nation's economy hostage. John Boehner appeared ready to accept them, even working out details and obtaining further concessions. Then, after meeting with his Republican caucus, he returned to dismiss the President's commitments as insufficiently harsh toward the nation's poor and middle class. Okay, no deal.
One election later, an election in which voters endorsed the President's campaign positions by a decisive margin, Speaker Boehner proposed that the President begin negotiations with the offer Republicans had rejected six months earlier. The re-election of President Obama was no small matter. It put to a severe test the Republican embrace of the Fox News worldview. President Obama was supposed to lose by a large margin. Sean Hannity and a host of others had said it so, and repeated it with conviction. It was a done deal.
When President Obama won, it was an electoral event worthy of note. He was the first candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to win two Presidential elections with over 51% of the vote. He did not campaign on a pledge to continue negotiations from the more vulnerable position in which he had found the country in July.
So, when Speaker Boehner said he might be willing to listen if the President began negotiations where they had left off in July, the President said no. Actually, I wonder if maybe it was HELL no. The offers that were made and then rejected back then were not to be made again, as if there had been no history since.
To an outsider, it may seem reasonable that an offer, once rejected, an offer made months before, would not be an eternal one-sided commitment. Suppose, back before I had met the one I love, I had asked some lady to marry me and had been refused. If, several months later, she called to say she had changed her mind, would she be offended to discover that I had changed my mind as well? Should she?
Speaker Boehner told his caucus that he would no longer negotiate with President Obama. Not now, not ever. Never.
You can kind of picture him pounding the lectern in animated fury as he complained that the president had "moved the goalposts." Uh huh, that's what he said. Moved the goalposts. The rational part of the Republican caucus shouted in unison, "Well, DUH!" Which is to say there was no reaction from Republicans except empathetic anger. How could the President be so shockingly unreasonable?
To be sure, that was not the only emotional outburst that might indicate an understandable buckling under stress.
The Republican caucus not only held the economy hostage, they held their own Speaker hostage as well. They made it clear they would not accept any offer from the President. Then they told their speaker they would not endorse his own extreme plan to severely penalize the middle class and those struggling to get out of poverty. His position was simply not severe enough. Besides, it would not protect the wealthiest one eighth of one percent from a marginal increase in taxes. Unacceptable.
The Hastert rule is not an actual rule. It is a "rule" only as long as the Speaker follows it. The Hastert rule is named after former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. It says that, when Republicans have a majority in the House, no bills are to be introduced unless a majority of Congressional Republicans say so. An extreme conservative majority of a slim Republican majority means that a little more than a quarter of one half of the federal legislature can keep a popular bill from being passed. That would be one half plus one of a slim majority of one house of a two house Congress, one of three branches, holding up everything. Thank you Mr. Hastert.
The fiscal cliff had originally been engineered by Mr. Boehner's caucus during the July hostage negotiations between Republicans, who held the economy hostage back then, and the rest of Congress and the President, who wanted to save the economy. The idea was that tax increases on everyone would combine with horrible cuts on programs benefiting the poor and middle class, as well as defense and highways and pretty much everything you can think of. It would push the economy into an abyss. All that would happen if Congress and the Senate did not pass an alternative that the President would be willing to sign.
Now that bill was being held up by a majority of a majority, which is to say a minority, of the House of Representatives.
Senator Harry Reid was blunt about the prospect of draconian cuts and raised taxes on the poor and the middle class, all because of the "Hastert rule." He focused on "the 250," the income tax cut off of 250,000 a year in salary proposed by the President. Those making more would have a modest tax increase. Those making less would have no tax increase. Senator Reid was blunt about the pointless holdup.
The American people I don't think understand the House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives. It's being operated by a dictatorship of the speaker, not allowing the vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want.
If the 250 were brought up, it would pass overwhelmingly.
Hard to see anything inaccurate in that assessment. Pretty straightforward. The Speaker was allowing a small number of Republicans to gum up the economy, hurt the poor and the middle class, and raise taxes on everyone. Welcome to lower paychecks next week.
Later, after all the dust was settled and the Speaker was pretty much forced to violate his own "Hastert rule," and the economy was saved until the next hostage taking, Speaker Boehner happened to catch sight of Senator Reid hurrying from one meeting to another. He loudly dropped the F-bomb, demanding that Senator Harry Reid perform an anatomical improbability. Reid was visibly startled, seemingly wondering if he had heard what he had heard. So Boehner repeated his suggestion that the Speaker find a way to engage in unlikely carnal knowledge of himself. "Go F--- Yourself!" he shouted.
There was no word on whether this reflected the will of a majority of a majority, the minority that consists of a majority of the Republican caucus.
We speculate that the Speaker remains their obedient servant.
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I'm not fan of Mr. Reid, myself, but pinning the inability of Congress to pass a budget on him isn't fair to Mr. Reid.
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