Boehner Agonistes

Suzy Khimm on the dilemma facing House Speaker John Boehner:

The House passed yet another short-term extension of the budget on Tuesday. But John Boehner faced a revolt by 54 Republicans who voted against the bill for not going far enough to slash spending, effectively forcing the GOP Speaker to rely on Democratic votes for the stop-gap measure to pass. As Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler explains, the vote now puts Boehner between a rock and a hard place: either he makes concessions to Democrats to pass a final budget, risking provoking greater fury from the tea party right, or he gives in to the GOP’s right flank—risking a government shutdown, as the Democratic Senate is unlikely to pass any bill that guts spending to satisfy hard-line conservatives.

I think Boehner’s problem here is pretty obvious, so there’s no point in belaboring it. The more interesting question is: which way does he jump?

My guess is that he sides with the tea partiers and forces a government shutdown. I don’t have any special insight here, just a feeling that, in the end, the hardcore right holds the whip hand in the Republican Party these days. If this is correct, though, it leads to a second question: how does this end? Obviously Republicans can’t keep the government shut down forever, and eventually this means that Obama will win some kind of compromise and it will get passed by a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. The tea partiers will lose.

Given that this almost has to be the case, wouldn’t it make more sense for Boehner to compromise in the first place and avoid the humiliation of giving in down the road? In a rational world, sure. But in the tea party universe, he can’t. The forces working here will force Boehner into the worst of both worlds: he won’t assert control over the tea party faction from the start, which is bad, and then he’ll end up caving in to Democrats a few weeks or months down the road, which is worse.

But maybe I’m missing something here. Is there some other scenario for Boehner that works out better for him?

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