House Speaker John Boehner tweaked Democrats for taking “marching orders” from their leadership, after Democratic senators were overheard receiving instructions to use the word “extreme” when describing the budget cuts House Republicans want to make.
But Boehner is giving marching orders of his own in the debate over finishing this year’s budget, and he had better hope his troops keep following his commands.
National Journal reports that journalists overheard the speaker telling freshman Republicans — many of whom are the ones pressing for maximum budget slashing — to be, well, a little extreme.
"Keep up the rhetoric," he said, loud enough for reporters outside the room to hear it. "The more you keep on them, the more leverage I’ve got."
Politico observes that public attacks on Senate Democrats, even as bipartisan negotiations continue behind the scenes, have become a large part of Boehner’s strategy to pass a budget for the rest of the year on terms most favorable to House Republicans.
David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane write, though, that the speaker doesn’t have clear a plan — or at least one they can discern — to rein in his firebrand freshmen when he needs them to replace rhetoric with support for compromise. How, when they confuse exaggeration for insight?
“I want to try to energize him,” said Rep. Allen B. West (R-Fla.), one of 87 freshmen, talking about the speaker he helped bring to power. “To let him know that, ‘Just get out there, and try a little harder.’ ”
Trying to explain Boehner’s position so far, West thought of a battle scene in the movie “Braveheart” in which Scottish nobles seek to negotiate with their enemies. William Wallace, Mel Gibson’s rebel character, rallies the Scottish army to fight instead.
Boehner is acting like the nobles, West said. That would make West, in office for four months . . . Braveheart.
“They won that battle,” West said.
Boehner may be able to placate West and others like him, convincing them to support compromise now with the promise of bigger fights in the future — this, to paraphrase House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is only Republicans’ first bite at the apple. They have next year’s budget to hash out and a looming vote on raising the federal debt limit, “the big issues ahead of us,” as Boehner remarked Friday.
Diverting pressure from this year’s budget to these impending conflicts, though, could make it harder for Boehner to give orders when higher stakes advise more caution, not less. Shutting down the government because you can’t agree on a budget is one thing. Tempting a global financial panic with alarming amounts of opposition to raising the debt limit is quite another. If Boehner ultimately can’t control his troops, it would be better to let them run amuck now.
Questions of political ethics aside, I hope that Boehner’s use of the word “rhetoric,” words GOP lawmakers can abandon when the speaker calls for compromise, reflects warranted confidence in his ability to corral his rambunctious caucus — some grand, “Houdini” strategy under which his troops don’t make their perfect the enemy of the country’s good.