I’ve never been a basher of Speaker John Boehner; figuring that it’s always easier to be the “Monday-morning quarterback” than the man on the field calling the signals, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt his years of experience warranted, even if I haven’t always agreed with his actions.
And, as some will recall, I was very skeptical of the defund/shutdown strategy against Obamacare. Still am, in fact, but that’s neither here nor there; once the battle had been joined, it was up to our leaders in the House, where the main action would be fought, to conduct the operations competently and come out of them with a win. The House majority, representing as it does a majority of the people, was well within its constitutional prerogatives to refuse funding for government operations until the Senate and the White House agreed to acceptable changes. And if the leadership couldn’t get everything –that is, defunding or delaying Obamacare for a year, which was never going to happen– then at least get some significant concessions that would make the struggle worthwhile. That would require effective negotiation and compromise by both sides, and it is in the conduct and results of those negotiations that we should judge Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and Majority Whip McCarthy.
Writing at The Federalist, Sean Davis examines Boehner & co.’s performance, as well as the lack of trust between them and the caucus, and concludes that it is time for them to resign. First, the trust issue:
So why the bloody fight over [tactics]? The battle erupted because conservatives did not trust Boehner and Cantor to actually fight on the debt limit. To many conservatives, the constant Boehner/Cantor strategy, regardless of the issue at hand, boils down to “the real battle is the next battle.” Surrender this fight, and we’ll promise to fight for real next time. Their proposed debt limit/delay strategy perfectly resembled that caricature. They won’t fight on the less risky battle (shutdown), so why should we trust them to fight on the really risky battle (default)?
That distrust, regardless of which side of the defund or delay argument you come down on, is the primary reason for the mess in which Republicans currently find themselves. Democrats stayed united because they trusted the strategy laid out for them by Reid and Obama. The GOP fracture was caused entirely by a lack of trust in its leadership.
Then there’s Speaker Boehner’s utter incompetence as a negotiator:
The next negotiating factor that eliminated any Boehner credibility in the eyes of Obama and Reid is Boehner’s terrible habit of offering unilateral concessions without getting anything in return from Reid or Obama. In order to explain why those actions were so problematic, we first need to define what was at stake. The object of the negotiation — the thing that nearly everybody wanted — was for the government to re-open and for default to be avoided. Democrats wanted a clean spending bill and a clean debt limit extension with nothing else attached. That was their dream deal. Republicans wanted any spending bill and debt limit to be coupled with some sort of full delay or defunding of Obamacare. That was their dream deal. Any deviation from either side’s dream deal is defined as a concession — it’s something they gave up in order to get to the object of the negotiation.
The trouble is, per Davis, Obama and Reid bet that, if they stayed firm and offered no concessions, Boehner would start “negotiating with himself,” which is exactly what happened, as Boehner offered unilateral concession after unilateral concession. All the Democrats had to do was sit back, say no, and wait. It was as if he had a cartoon sucker hanging over his head:
But what of his deputies, Majority Leader Cantor and Majority Whip McCarthy? Davis does not spare them, either:
First, [Boehner] never took the time to determine what negotiators call the “walkaway value” of his conference. What is the final deal that they would accept? Granted, that is a very difficult value to agree on, especially when you have more than 200 individuals who think their solution is best and everyone else is an idiot. But that’s the Speaker’s job. When you are negotiating on behalf of other people, you cannot walk into a negotiation without knowing their walkaway value. And where were Cantor and McCarthy during all this? If Boehner thought he would be advantaged by staying above the fray, then Cantor and McCarthy — the whip whose sole job it is to count votes — should’ve been listening and whipping and cajoling on Boehner’s behalf. Their job is to support the Speaker, and every indication is that they completely failed to do so.
In other words, their job was to “take the temperature ” of their caucus, find out what their minimal agreed conditions were, get everyone signed off on the same page, and convey that to Boehner, so that he could then field a unified caucus in the negotiations, knowing that he could deliver the votes in a deal. Instead, Cantor and McCarthy failed to do this, Boehner failed to make them do this, and instead the Speaker offered deal after deal that he could not carry out.
The result, then, was not only a defeat for Republicans and conservatives in this round (and it was a defeat, no matter how much some spin it), but also a weakening of our position in any future conflicts, because of both the caucus’ continued lack of trust in the leadership (now deepened) and Reid and Obama’s defensible belief that, in another showdown, they could use the same intransigent strategy again and expect to win. With the current leadership, I’d say they were justified in that belief.
Under the parliamentary, “Westminster system” of government, Cabinet ministers are considered accountable for the functioning of their department and can be expected to resign if something bad goes wrong. It’s called the principle of “ministerial responsibility.”
While the American Executive Branch doesn’t usually operate under the same principle (1), I do believe it applies more closely in party caucuses in the House. Boehner and his leadership team have failed repeatedly in their negotiations with the Senate and the White House. They can’t run the government, obviously, but they are not even achieving what could be reasonably expected when controlling a majority of the chamber that most closely represents the People. And that comes down to individual failures by John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy.
It’s time for the Speaker and his deputies to accept responsibility, resign, and make way for new leadership that has the confidence of the caucus.
(1) Especially not this administration; under any decent government, HHS Secretary Sebelius would have resigned over the Obamacare roll-out fiasco. And don’t get me started about Eric Holder.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)