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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Speaker and the Debt

Edmund Burke wrote: "In all bodies, those who will lead, must also, in a considerable degree, follow." House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has had to grapple with "tea party" demands on the budget, and may end up with more success than many had expected, as The Daily Beast reports:

The conventional Beltway wisdom is that Boehner is floundering, unable to control his caucus, caught in a vise between Tea Party demands and the need to avoid a devastating default for which Republicans would shoulder much of the blame.Click here to find out more!

But that verdict misses the magnitude of what the low-key party veteran may accomplish. By forging a debt-ceiling compromise with Democrats that will meet almost no Democratic demands, Boehner will lock down his role as the undisputed leader of the Republican Party—and finally prove to skeptics that the Ohio pragmatist can indeed lead a party of purists and get a few things done in the process.


“The best way to describe it is to say he’s threading a needle. He’s trying to placate conservatives and help his party in the next election, while also solidifying his own position,” says Matthew Green, a professor of political science at Catholic University and author of The Speaker: A Study of Leadership. “On the other hand he doesn’t want to be known as the speaker who let the U.S. default on its obligations. I guess all I can say is I’m glad I’m not in his position.”
President Obama inadvertently strengthened conservative resolve with his Monday televised address, when he mentioned President Reagan’s support of a 1982 tax increase. Perhaps his speechwriters didn’t know how Republicans view that chapter of congressional history. President Reagan and congressional Republicans came to regret the 1982 measure, believing that the Democrats had sold them higher taxes in exchange for spending cuts that never materialized. The measure antagonized the public, split Republicans, and contributed to GOP losses in the 1982 midterm election. Even Republicans who weren’t serving in 1982 have heard the story, which is Exhibit A in the case against a “grand bargain.” Exhibit B is the first President Bush;s "grand bargain" in 1990, when he accepted higher taxes and got the Budget Enforcement Act. Many scholars argue that it was a long-term success, but it proved a big problem for the GOP in 1992, when Bill Clinton ran attack ads blasting the president for breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.