Your Sunday Shutdown Reader #1: In Defense of Boehner

"How many times do we have to refight the Civil War?"

Recently I argued that John Boehner's refusal to let a "clean" budget measure come up for a full House vote was "contemptible." That was because, in order to protect his own job as Speaker, he was allowing countless other Americans to lose their jobs or businesses through an entirely unnecessary shutdown.

I'm not the first to use that term. But readers write to defend Boehner and his motives in a variety of ways. For the record, here is a sampling (and that's his official picture).

He is playing the long game. This is one of many reader messages saying that Boehner is storing up for the "real" battle over the debt ceiling:

I understand why you are viewing the Speaker with contempt.  But let me offer an alternative view.

As you say, bringing a clean CR [continuing resolution] to a vote would likely cost him his position as Speaker.  That is, he gets to defy the Tea Party fanatics once, but only once.  Clearly he could do this over the clean Continuing Resolution, and thus end the pain that a lot of people are feeling.

But if he did, what would happen next?  Next would be a bill to raise the debt ceiling.  The next speaker would likely not be inclined to fight the Tea Party on that one, so it would include the whole Tea Party laundry list of wants.  And it would fail to get anywhere in the Senate.  So America defaults.  Which would be catastrophic for the nation.

So maybe, just maybe, the Speaker is doing the hard and thankless job of taking all the contempt you (and others) are giving him.  In order to use his one shot for a debt ceiling bill.  

We will know in a couple more weeks whether that possibility is correct or not.  (I could, of course, be totally wrong.) But if it is, I submit that the nation (and the world) will owe Mr. Boehner an enormous debt of gratitude -- for being willing to take all the opprobrium being heaped upon him in order to be in a position to do what needs to be done.  

The nation will survive and recover from a shutdown, even if (as seems likely) it ends up lasting a couple of months or more.  We would not, I suspect, recover from a default.  So maybe, just maybe, the Speaker is taking one for the team here.  Let's hope so.

Similarly, let's think about his final moves:

Let's give the man even a tiny bit of credit as a human being.  Then, if we are to believe that he really won't plunge they world economy into chaos in 2 weeks, let's think about his end game.

Could he believe that he has only one more chance to allow a clean vote and it will have to be both on the budget and default together?

If he allows a vote now to re-open the government, the nihilists and the lemmings in his own party will replace him with one of their own on the debt ceiling...

On the larger question that nobody has asked, how is it that in a Democracy the minority parties can't even bring something up for a vote?  Seems like a decent democracy would have "Minority 'All You Can Vote' Fridays" at least once or twice a month. Sounds like something to look at.

And, suppose we had a Speaker Eric Cantor

I wonder what [Boehner's] personal endgame is here. I mean, what is the point of being Speaker if you are beholden to your backbenchers?

That said, there needs to a face saving solution for him. Obama shouldn't have to negotiate over the CR and/or debt ceiling, but by the same token if the only option for Boehner is a humiliating request to Pelosi for votes, I don't see him doing it. 

Further, I am not convinced that Boehner is the key. Let's say he does call a vote on a clean CR. It passes with Dem votes and moderate Republicans. The Republican extremists immediately petition to challenge his Speakership -- only need 50 votes to do that, right? Then Cantor knifes him. So we get the CR, but now Cantor is in charge. 

You'd need Boehner to bring a CR to the floor, and then you'd need a consistent willingness and ability to use Discharge Petitions to undermine Cantor. But at that point, you've essentially posited two dozen or more GOP Reps voting consistently with the Dems... which just isn't credible. Getting a single Senator to switch parties is tricky, but doable. Getting two dozen GOP reps to do it is just not credible.

On the possibility of a discharge petition, a reader points out that 20+ Republican House members have spoken up in favor of a "clean" vote — enough, with the Democrats, to constitute a House majority. He adds:

Interesting to see if this gambit works. By my math 200 Democrats + 17 Republicans signing a petition to request John Boehner bring a motion to the floor with a clean CR would show the American people that a majority in the House wants to end the shut down. Then it would be up to Boehner to demonstrate why he doesn't end the shut down.

And on the big picture, from author and former longtime aide to GOP Senators, Mike Lofgren:

For God’s sake, how many times do we have to refight the Civil War? You suggested a House discharge petition (which Pelosi is pursuing); I suggest taking off the kid gloves. How about drawing up articles of impeachment against the House and Senate instigators of the shutdown, since they are clearly nonfeasant with respect to their oaths of office, and their actions are causing substantive harm to the public interest? 

Sunday Reader #2 coming this evening. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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