Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) may be the most underestimated man inside the Beltway. He has consistently and repeatedly surpassed expectations. The current battle over the 2011 continuing resolution, a faux battle, I would suggest, is just the latest example.
Recall his opening speech to the House. He was humble, brief and more eloquent than his critics — or his supporters — imagined. During the Arizona tragedy he remained poised and demonstrated the appropriate nonpartisan tone that the left entirely lacked.
In the run-up to the unveiling of the 2012 budget, the media concocted a rivalry between Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The reality is different. Sources directly involved in the process tell me Boehner never asked Ryan “not to go there” or tried to dissuade him from putting out a very dramatic budget. To the contrary, he gave Ryan license to invade turf usually held by other committees. What other budget has put forth a tax scheme? That’s usually the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. As the committee chairman raised this or that objection to Ryan’s scheme, Ryan was, according to senior leadership staff, consistently supported by Boehner as well as Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
That brings us to the drama over the 2011 continuing resolution. I’ll be blunt: Boehner has played the Congress, the president, the Senate and the media like a fiddle. He could, days ago, have reached a compromise with the Democrats, taken the last spending cut offer and dumped the policy riders. After all he could have used Democratic votes to pass a lowest-common-denominator CR. He didn’t. Instead, he has extended the negotiation up to the deadline. He’s not going to leave a dollar on the table. And most important, the freshmen congressmen can rest assured he has gotten the best deal possible. The smartest move yet? Boehner did not allow Obama to announce a deal last night, stealing the thunder after doing virtually nothing to forge a deal. Why is this important? It demonstrates to his caucus and to the president and the Democratic Senate that he isn’t going to crumble whenever the president unleashes a new round of condescending rhetoric. (Obama cast himself as the adult, the Congress as squabbling children.)
I fully expect that there will be a stopgap bill passed today, the Senate will vote on it tomorrow and we will soon have a “final” CR.
Maybe the pundits and pols should stop underestimating Boehner. So far, he’s won every battle.