The Itsy Bitsy Ambitions of John Boehner


You can’t accuse John Boehner of starry-eyed idealism:

When I ask him to name his top priority, he lays out not a grand legislative bargain but a seemingly modest managerial goal that has eluded him for much of his time at the top: exercising enough control over his conference to pass spending bills through regular order.

Um, OK. That seems doable. But I’m not so sure about this:

The idea of a Boehner-Obama bargain late in the game is no idle fantasy….Boehner told me “bipartisanship” was in fact one of his top priorities for 2015, and, in private, in the wake of the 2013 shutdown debacle, Boehner told his inner circle that he has no problems passing big legislation “by working directly with the Democrats” if his own conference defies him again.

….That’s the way it worked in December: Two-thirds of Republicans joined about one-third of Democrats to pass a Boehner government-funding plan….When I asked Boehner if he worried Republicans would slam him for dealing with Democrats, he blew a puff of smoke and answered, “I don’t care.”

It’s true that during the recent lame-duck session, Boehner was willing to pass a compromise budget that alienated much of his own caucus and required lots of help from Democrats to pass. But will he be willing to do that when it comes to a “big deal on taxes, entitlements and government spending, trade and immigration”? I have my doubts, no matter how much we hear that Boehner and Obama are really tighter buddies than you’d think. It’s not just that Boehner really, truly has to be willing to defy a big chunk of his caucus, after all. He also has to be willing to take the risk of making genuine compromises in order to get a sizeable chunk of Democrats on board. Outside of budget deals, I’ve simply seen no evidence that Boehner is willing to do that—or, even if he is, that he has the mojo within his own caucus to get most of them to agree to such a deal.

But we’ll see. Maybe Boehner will surprise us. I just wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

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