House Republicans have more than two options
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted January 7, 2013
There were a few anxious moments in the White House last week. For a brief moment it looked liked John Boehner's re–election as Speaker might be in trouble. This would have been a disaster for the Obama administration — equivalent to the French hiring Gen. George S. Patton as their commander–in–chief in the fall of 1938.
It's quite possible that Boehner is the favorite Republican of Oval Office denizens. He's never won a showdown with Obama. He huffs and he puffs and he blows his own House down. Cong. Boehner is the Ambrose Burnside of GOP strategists. He's always a pontoon or two short of victory.
Which is why his three–vote margin was uncomfortably close for the Obama administration.
Speaker Boehner — and admittedly much of the Republican brain trust both in and out of elective office — is trapped in a binary, tactical battle with the White House. A battle he manages to re–fight and re–lose on a regular basis. The fiscal cliff confrontation was simply not a choice between passing Obama's tax and spending increases or plunging headlong off the cliff.
A truly strategic thinker would have seen there was a third option. An option that was difficult in the short run, but promised a lasting victory in the long run.
I outlined that strategy here in mid–December. I contend that Obama has a legitimate mandate to raise taxes, so let him raise taxes to his heart's content. Instead of fighting and losing, House Republicans step aside and let the Democrats pass a bill that gives the public a mandate right upside their head.
Only the Democrats do it without a single Republican vote.
Instead, Boehner states very plainly the GOP believes this bill is wrong and raising taxes will damage the economy. Unfortunately, the people have spoken, so the GOP will abstain on this vote. Making the 2014 off–year election a referendum on the Obama plan.
A referendum Republicans will win in a landslide, if we are correct. If we are wrong, and the voters actually want big, bigger and biggest government, then it doesn't matter anyway.
Using a political rope–a–dope strategy means Republicans can't be blamed for pushing the country over the fiscal cliff, nor can they be blamed for the recession redux that follows passage of Obama's Christmas list.
Instead, binary, short–term, tactical thinking has saddled the nation with a terrible deal: $41 in new spending for every $1 in elusive spending cuts. And what's worse, because the House GOP leadership helped pass the bill, Republicans now have part ownership of the blame for Obama's failure!
Ss long as Boehner is speaker, this willing participation in mutually assured economic destruction undercuts responsible conservatives in the future.
On the other hand, Republican governors, when presented with an almost identical situation, made just the type of choice I'm advocating.
GOP governors loathe Obamacare. They believe it to be bad policy, bad medicine and bad government. Now Obamacare is the law of the land and the next step is implementation on a state–by–state basis. In any potentially chancy political situation Democrats can be certain to monopolize all the credit and outsource the blame if things go wrong.
Acting on this principle, Democrats established a system where each state is supposed to create a health insurance exchange, which insulates national Democrats from blame. When Obamacare goes horribly wrong, state governors will be in the line of fire, since they created the exchange.
If Boehner had been governor of say Virginia, he would have fallen right into the trap and worked to create an exchange that implemented Obamacare and dispensed blame to Republicans.
Fortunately Bob McDonnell is governor and he — along with other wise Republicans at the state level — refused to create an exchange. Leaving Obamacare a Democrat sole proprietorship, since the exchange will be run by the feds. Obama owns the law and he owns the outcome, because Republicans refused to participate.
Looking ahead, our next defeat will be the vote on increasing the debt limit. Sure Boehner has pledged that he won't negotiate with Obama in the future, but I fail to see where being buffaloed by Harry Reid is an improvement.
Unfortunately for conservatives, Boehner is an excellent strategist when it comes to protecting his career. As Virginia Del. Rich Anderson (R–VA) points out, back in 2009 Boehner was a strong supporter of a secret ballot for union elections.
Boehner declared that a public vote with union organizers watching would "actually would strip workers of free choice in union organizing elections.... Instead, it would leave them open to coercion and intimidation — from either union officials or company management — to sign or not sign a card expressing their desire to join a union."
Which makes the 12 Republican members of the House who voted against Boehner last Thursday all the more noble. Since he was watching teamster–like as each one of them voted against him.
Voting as a conservative in the Boehner House is not conducive to career advancement. As the four freshmen Congressmen who lost their committee assignments last month, in retaliation for failing to toe the company line, will be happy to tell you.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker.