Speaker Boehner is the monkey in the middle
One of the ways in which I amuse myself and make myself feel better is to think of who I would rather not be on a particular day. Right now, that person is John Boehner. Politics is like baseball. Inevitably, just when it is least expected, the pitcher will unleash a surprise ball that will completely befuddle the batter. I have a colleague who quotes Dorothy Parker every Monday morning. Her, “What fresh hell is this?” almost always turns out to be on the mark and is almost always a surprise.
Right now, Speaker Boehner is experiencing the worst kind of fresh hell. You might call it “Monkey in the Middle.” You remember it — it’s the game where two kids play catch over the head of a kid in the middle, who is generally frustrated beyond belief. As the head man in the House of Representatives, Boehner really is the guy in the middle. He’s caught between a small group of Republican right wing ideologues and the moderates in his party.
Clearly, Boehner wants to stay speaker. His dilemma is over the Affordable Health Care Act, referred to by many as Obamacare. The law mandates that every American get health care. Obamacare passed both houses of Congress, was signed by the president and was declared constitutional by the United States Supreme Court.
Some conservative Republicans in this country, most of whom probably have health care, don’t want everyone to have the same protection they have and have decided to hold the country hostage until the president’s signature health care program is decimated. To his credit, the president has said ‘no’ and as a result, the federal government has largely been shut down because the Republicans won’t allow a budget to be passed. This is an untenable situation for Speaker Boehner who knows how to read polls. There are a lot of people who really don’t understand the president’s health care program and listen to Fox News and people like the fatuous Rush Limbaugh. As a result, they mouth the idiotic rhetoric of the right and say they’re against Obamacare. At the same time, most people hate the idea that the Republicans are actually willing to close down the government because they didn’t get their way.
The problem for Boehner is that he needs the votes of two distinct groups of Republicans to make him speaker. The first is the sore loser, radical right group. Their problem is that they can’t afford to be “right-winged” in a primary by someone even more conservative than themselves. Most of these people come from safe Republican districts. So, they persist in their folly, alienating Americans who are suffering from a shut down government. The second group is the more moderate Republicans who are facing voters in a two-party district where they could lose in a general election because people will largely blame Republicans for the mess. Those Republicans who will run against well-financed Democrats are facing political extinction because the Republicans are so unpopular now. These are the two groups that are playing catch over Boehner’s head.
The Democrats could not be happier. For once, it’s the Republicans who have formed themselves into a circular firing squad. If Boehner allows a vote, the moderate Republicans will vote with the Democrats and a continuing budget resolution would be passed. The conservatives will hate Boehner and he might lose his speakership. Many people will not forget what the Republicans have done here and it may cause several losses in close races. The Democrats may gain the majority in the Congress. You can be sure that Boehner will have to give in, probably sooner rather than later, and will look pathetically wounded. There really is no easy way out for the guy. He’s a pretty nice man but he just can’t control his people and that’s why he’s the monkey in the middle. I’m sure glad I’m not him.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 10/7/13