Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has been playing a bad messaging strategy, one that raises tactics above principle, conflating the fortunes of the Speaker with that of his party and his party with the broader conservative movement.
The Speaker asked House conservatives to vote for an unpassable bill they didn’t want in order to show President Obama’s intransigence. Whether it had passed or not, that message would not have been received, but another would have: conservatives would have voted for a tax increase after having campaigned against doing so. Had it gotten to President Obama’s desk, he would have vetoed it, but the blame would still have been put on Republicans.
After watching Speaker Boehner manipulate his way into the creation of the fiscal cliff, back primary challengers to conservatives, and then toss conservatives off key committees, the lack of trust was too great in the Speaker. He reached a tipping point past which his promises meant nothing and threats served only to steel his opposition.
Everyone’s taxes were always going to go up. The fiscal cliff negotiations are about who gets the blame. Boehner wanted to pass something the Democrats would block, so he could avoid blame for going over the cliff he himself had created.
President Obama demonstrated repeatedly that he was not interested in bargaining, but would like to go over the cliff, allowing tax rates to rise on everyone, so that he could then lower rates for everyone but the rich. No longer would we refer to the “Bush Tax Cuts,” but “The Obama Tax Cuts.”
As Erick Erickson put it,
The fact is the GOP is going to get blamed no matter what. The fact is, if the GOP signaled to the American public it was willing to raise taxes on anyone, Barack Obama would have still rejected their deal and the GOP would still get blamed.
Democrats were not going to pass that bill. They were rallying against it, using absurd analysis from the left-leaning Tax Policy Institute to claim it was a tax hike on the middle class and tax cut for the wealthy.
As Daniel Horowitz said over at Redstate, the Plan B episode was a chance for House conservatives to show they learned from the Cut, Cap and Balance fight of 2011:
Despite the fact that we all warned that Boehner would never stand by the plan and that they’d be breaking their CCB/debt ceiling pledge for nothing, they passed his bill. Yes, unlike this time, there weren’t enough intransigent, knucklehead, knuckle-dragging, Tea Party rubes who were willing to block it. Even though not a single Democrat supported it, the bill passed 218-210. They all rallied behind Boehner to “strengthen his hand” in the hopes of getting a good deal. Well, less than 24 hours later, he announced the grand bargain, which gave Obama a $2.1 trillion blank check with no balanced budget amendment and a defense sequester trap that they are dealing with to this day. Boehner said at the time that he got 98% of what he wanted from the deal.
Conservatives were told in March, 2011 for the Continuing Resolution (pdf) and then again in July, 2011 for the debt ceiling (pdf) that we must not go to the mat over these crises, that brinksmanship was a losing proposition. We were told to “keep our powder dry” for the 2012 elections, after which we would gain seats in the House and Senate and win back the White House. A Republican President would sign Obamacare repeal and bring spending back to normal levels.
Speaker Boehner would not risk giving President Obama an election-year talking point, even though Boehner was put into that office largely to get rid of Obamacare and cut spending. He continued to bring up for vote fruitless and vain repeal bills, knowing that none would pass.
These messaging bills, designed to give the Speaker cover as a repeal hawk, did nothing except frustrate his membership.
The Speaker bet the farm on winning the 2012 elections, and lost.
Conservatives in the House were disappointed in the Speaker when again, he started the fiscal cliff fight negotiations from weakness, arguing about how much to raise taxes rather than on how to cut spending. Echoing Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Tim Scott, soon to be Senator from South Carolina said,
We must focus on cutting spending. If the conversation is starting with revenues, we’re having the wrong conversation.
— Tim Scott (@RepTimScott) December 21, 2012
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe wrote to members of Congress urging them not to support Plan B, saying that while it did not actually raise taxes, that’s what the public perception would have been. Republicans would have given up a key differentiator with their opponents:
While Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” does not, strictly speaking, contain any tax hikes, its passage will be widely interpreted by the Washington establishment and the left-wing media as a capitulation to the President’s demand for higher taxes. That will only embolden the supporters of ever-bigger government. Republicans, especially, should take a strong stand against President Obama’s cynical politics of dividing Americans against one another.
There is a better way to avoid the fiscal cliff. FreedomWorks has been urging Congress to keep its promise of $1.2 trillion in ten-year sequester savings, extend all current tax rates for one year, and reform taxes and entitlements.
House leadership threw everything they had into Plan B, in the end making it a vote of confidence on the Speaker himself. In the end, they had gone to that well too many times, and it had run dry.
If the argument for going along with Boehner’s proposal is that it will weaken him to oppose him then you can never oppose him.
— David Limbaugh (@DavidLimbaugh) December 21, 2012
For members of Congress to allow themselves to be painted as raising taxes, it ought to be in exchange for something of equal value. A mere messaging bill, and one that would not even have sent its desired message, is not of equal value. Taken together with the long train of abuses which the Speaker has visited on House conservatives, it’s no wonder they have declared their independence from him.
Speaker Boehner should resign as Speaker, or at least, remove his name from consideration in the 113th Congress. He has abused the trust of the members and can not provide the leadership needed to achieve success in the current environment.