The only immediate good news in House Speaker John A. Boehner’s abrupt resignation is that it could avert another costly, corrosive government shutdown – for now.
The 65-year-old Republican from Ohio, who had spent a career seeking the speakership, surprised insiders by announcing on Friday that he will give up the gavel at the end of October, and resign the seat he has held since 1991. He made the decision as the far-right wing of his caucus was preparing to bring the nation’s business to a halt.
The demand to block the federal budget over funding for Planned Parenthood, purportedly about life, is the worst kind of sound and fury, a hostile bit of political theater from a group that would rather fight than govern. In resigning, Boehner signaled he’ll have nothing to lose by cutting a stopgap deal to ignore them and keep the government running, rather than indulging them in hopes of preserving his speakership.
But longer term, his resignation is a loss, for Republicans and the nation. It will take a 25-year veteran out of the process, and eliminate one of the dwindling number of reasonable voices remaining in the party.
Boehner’s enemies on the right complained about the staunchness of his conservatism, though that was hardly in question. Rather, his real crime seemed to be his old-fashioned belief that democracy is about compromising.
As U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican, told the New York Times, the new tea party members – between 25 and 50 in the caucus, by his count – simply won’t do it.
“They can’t get to yes,” he said. “They just can’t get to yes, and so they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead. And not only do they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead, but they undermine the Republican conference and also help to weaken the institution of Congress itself. That’s the reality.”
Whether that reality will vanquish the next speaker, too, is an open question. The front-runner probably is California’s own House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, though insiders say he is hardly a shoo-in.
For Democrats, this intrigue and disarray might be a source of dark pleasure. It shouldn’t be. Governance-by-hostage is seriously detrimental, alienating voters and damaging the economy.
An affable man with a knack for deal-making, McCarthy has many friends in the House, having helped many of his colleagues elsewhere get elected. But Boehner was a deal-maker, too, and in the end, it didn’t matter. The big dog in the House tea party wing isn’t even in the House – it’s Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the GOP presidential hopeful. With Cruz trying to stir the pot all the way to the White House, the new House leaders will have their work cut out for them.
For Democrats, this intrigue and disarray might be a source of dark pleasure. It shouldn’t be. Governance-by-hostage is seriously detrimental, disruptive to the economy and alienating for voters.
When Cruz and company shut down the government for 16 days in 2013, trying to halt Obamacare funding, nearly 800,000 federal employees had their paychecks delayed, national parks were closed, veterans’ benefits were disrupted, home loan decisions were delayed, immigration courts were closed and it cost us an estimated $24 billion.
Without reasonable consensus, no group can govern, and in Congress, reason increasingly seems to have left the building. No wonder Boehner wept as he listened to Pope Francis’ historic address this week to Congress.
It must have been an epiphany, hearing those rational calls for compassion and common purpose, and then re-entering that atmosphere of entrenched, hyperpartisan meanness. No true public servant, and no nation, would stand for such a hatred of governance, not if they had a shred of reason.
It’s a testament to Boehner’s love of his country that he waited until there was scarcely a prayer left before finally saying, “I quit.”