Republicans asked the voters last year to give them the power to help govern the country. Thanks to dissatisfaction with the policies of President Obama and the dismal state of the economy, voters complied.
With that authority awarded through the ballot box came an obligation to recognize both the power they were given and the limits it entailed. Instead, House Republicans have spent the past two weeks debating debt-ceiling proposals that have no possibility of becoming law at this time. What they discovered Thursday night is that they were divided enough internally to scuttle passage of a plan that Boehner had put his prestige behind.
Boehner and other GOP leaders spent Friday picking up the pieces of Thursday’s debacle, and by the end of the day they had emerged with passage of a proposal that had been retailored to meet the demands of the holdouts. The speaker’s fiery speech ending debate brought a standing ovation from his troops.
How much damage the events of the past two days have done to efforts to resolve the current impasse isn’t yet known. Boehner and the Republican Party could suffer well beyond the outcome of this episode if enough of the public judges that they are not governing in the country’s best interests.
The changes Boehner was forced to make to his proposal will make it even more unpalatable in the Senate. Any compromise that comes back will fall that much farther short of what his rebellious colleagues want.
If there is to be a compromise — and the outlines of a plausible agreement were under active discussion on Capitol Hill before the House bill was pulled — it is likely to be one that splits the Republicans in the House far more than they were divided on Thursday night.
When he broke off negotiations with the White House, Boehner took upon himself the responsibility to find a solution to the debt-ceiling deadlock. He turned the president largely into an observer this week, save for a prime-time speech on Monday and another statement delivered Friday morning. In so doing, Boehner heightened the pressure on himself to deliver.
When he pulled out of the White House talks a week ago, Boehner accused the president of not being willing to take yes for an answer in their negotiations. What is ironic, or worrisome, is that he has struggled to persuade his troops that, with the collapse of the grand bargain, they had won the argument — certainly for now at least.
Neither Boehner’s plan for a two-step process to raise the debt ceiling nor the single-step process advanced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calls for more taxes. The grand bargain so prized by the president — and seemingly, for a time, by the speaker — seems long gone. But for the tea party faction in the House, that hasn’t been enough to feel satisfied. Their suspicions of Washington run that deep.