John Boehner Has Been Cruzified on a Cross of Tea


Byron York has an interview today with a Republican congressman who is unnamed except for this description: “It’s fair to say his was a perspective well worth listening to.” The gist is that this guy was surprised by the passion of the Ted Cruz crusade to defund Obamacare, but nonetheless figured that Democrats would eventually agree to pass a CR with a single modest concession: repealing the medical device tax. Here’s the relevant passage:

“I never thought defund, and honestly, I never thought delay, would work,” the lawmaker said. “I think the Democrats very much need the exchanges to come on and work to finally create a constituency for [Obamacare]…so I never thought they would agree on that.”

Still, the lawmaker thought Senate Democrats, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, would make some sort of concession on a lesser aspect of Obamacare. “I do think, though, when Boehner sent over delay and [repeal of the] medical device tax, I think he thought he’d probably get back medical device, and that would have probably been enough right there,” the congressman said. But Reid and the Democrats steadfastly refused to consider any change to Obamacare, surprising Republicans again….When Boehner lowered his demands to include a delay for just the individual mandate — not for all of Obamacare — Republicans thought Democrats would be open to that more modest proposal.

“Instead, it’s no, we’re not going to negotiate, we’re not going to negotiate, we’re not going to negotiate,” the lawmaker said. “Which means effectively you’re going to try to humiliate the Speaker in front of his conference. And how effective a negotiating partner do you think he’ll be then? You’re putting the guy in a position where he’s got nothing to lose, because you’re not giving him anything to win.”

I understand that I’m writing from a partisan perspective and might be as blinkered as the next guy. But this strikes me as jaw-droppingly naive.

Here’s the thing: I agree with our unnamed congressman about the device tax. It’s a fairly small thing ($2-3 billion per year) and completely nonessential to Obamacare. It could be eliminated without harm, and it would give Boehner a small bit of face-saving that might allow him to pass a budget. If this had been the GOP’s initial ask, Democrats probably would have given in.

But after weeks and weeks of tea party rage and intransigence, that became impossible. By the end of September, the Republican strategy had become crystal clear: demand unceasing concessions from Democrats at every opportunity without offering anything in return and without any negotiation. A month ago, Democrats might have shrugged over the device tax. Today, they know perfectly well what it would mean to let it go. It means that when the debt ceiling deadline comes up, there will be yet another demand. When the 6-week CR is up, there will be yet another. If and when appropriations bills are passed, there will be yet another. We’ve already seen the list. There simply won’t be any end to the hostage taking. As their price for not blowing up the country, there will be an unending succession of short-term CRs and short-term debt limit extensions used as leverage for picking apart Obamacare—and everything else Democrats care about—piece by piece.

There’s no way that any political party anywhere in the world would willingly put itself in this position. Does this mean that Democrats are “jamming” Boehner, leaving him no way to save some face? Yes it does, and human nature being what it is, that’s truly unfortunate. But what other choice do they have? The newly Cruz-ified Republican Party has left them with no alternative.

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