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Boehner’s problem: His party doesn’t like compromise

By Ezra Klein,

Getty Images John Boehner has a problem. He likes being Speaker of the House of Representatives. He would like to continue to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. But being Speaker of the House of Representatives means both leading the House Republicans and compromising to get things done. And in this Republican Party, at this moment, if you want to lead the House Republicans, you can’t compromise to get things done.

We’ve now seen the same farce play out four times. Republican leaders get close to a deal and then, just before they can close it, their members revolt and they have to pull back. The first time was when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked out of the Biden talks rather than discuss revenue. The second and third time when when Boehner walked out on the various iterations of the $4 trillion deal he had been cutting with Obama. And the fourth time is playing out right now. Boehner is rewriting his bill so that it links any increase in the debt ceiling to the passage of a balanced budget amendment.

Is that acceptable to the Senate? Of course not. “We simply do not have the votes in this body to enact such a measure,” said Sen. John McCain on Thursday. But that’s sort of the point. If Boehner is to have any chance of passing his bill through the House, he needs to make it completely unacceptable to the president and the Senate.

If that doesn’t make any sense to you — and it shouldn’t — then perhaps it would help if I rephrased: In order to have any chance of surviving as Speaker of the House, Boehner needs to produce legislation that is completely unacceptable to the White House and the Senate. Their opposition is a feature, not a bug. Consider how he sold his plan to Laura Ingraham: “President Obama hates it. Harry Reid hates it. Nancy Pelosi hates it. Why would Republicans want to be on the side of President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi [is] beyond me.”

Why anyone would think that a plan loathed by the Majority Leader of the Senate and the President of the United States would be signed into law is beyond me. And since then, Boehner has moved the plan considerably to the right. But that’s because he’s not legislating. He’s just trying to survive.

It’s not just that Boehner’s party doesn’t like any of the viable compromises on the table. It’s that they don’t like compromise, full stop. YouGov polled this question and found the two parties to be almost mirror images of each other: Two-thirds of Democrats preferred a member of Congress who “compromises to get things done.” Two-thirds of Republicans preferred a member of Congress who “sticks to his principles, no matter what.”

The problem for Boehner is that the country needs a Speaker of the House of Representatives who compromises to get things done. Even if what’s being compromised is his career.

Related links:

Everything you need to know about the debt ceiling

Running in the Red (Part 1): How the U.S. detoured to massive debt

Running in the Red (Part 2): How the GOP’s no-tax orthodoxy came to be

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