Speaker Boehner: Lead, or Get Out of the Way

The Speaker of the House has incredible power. If the Republic is to last, he — or she — must wield that power effectively and now more than ever, rein in Congress. 

The Speaker of the House has the power to force repeal of Obamacare, to defund it, and generally to set the agenda for the government in ways not even the President can.

Who will be the Speaker in the 113th Congress? The incumbent, John Boehner is of course the most likely choice, but conservative commentator Mark Levin came up with an intriguing idea: the Constitution doesn’t specify that the Speaker must be a member of the House. Levin suggested Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who declined. Others have suggested Newt Gingrich return as Speaker. The idea is farfetched, but is anything in our government not farfetched these days?

Other names put forward include Michele Bachmann (MN) and Paul Ryan (WI).

Speaker Boehner has waived the white flag following Mitt Romney’s loss in the recent presidential election, according to the Senate Conservatives Fund. That may be hyperbole, but few would argue that Boehner is carrying the banner for the liberty movement.

Messaging bills, like ones to repeal various parts of Obamacare or even the whole thing, are destined to die a swift death in the Democrat controlled Senate. Those proposing them know it, and are merely posturing and giving cover to others by voting for the bills, safe in the knowledge of their eventual defeat. 

It’s the same procedure the newly installed Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) used at the beginning of the 112th Congress. While pushing bill after bill either for full Obamacare repeal or for repeal of parts of it, he refused to tie any of these repeal bills to legislation important to Democrats, thus dooming each one to failure. 

On the Wednesday following the 2012 reelection of President Obama, in which Boehner’s party kept control of the House of Representatives, Boehner stressed that he would not accept an increase in tax rates, but would accept increased revenue. The pre-negotiation concession of accepting “increased revenue” is a losing tactic.  

The biggest fight is one Boehner appears not to be interested in having. Boehner told ABC News that the election changed the fight to repeal Obamacare, calling it “the law of the land”. Soon afterward on his Twitter account he appeared to walk back his comments:

If the Speaker is committed to full repeal as he says, he could force it by attaching the relatively simple repeal language to more complex legislation that is important to his opponents or essential to operation of the government. As long as he just maintains a 33%+1 plurality, the Speaker is immune to removal from outside his chamber.

That Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama would oppose such a move is clear. The only question is: which do they want more: an operating government, or a government with Obamacare?

Conservatives have suggested going over the fiscal cliff or giving liberals what they want, so that the destructive results of their policies would be made clear and conservatives would be free to negotiate. Surely forcing a government shutdown and making a stand is no more radical a plan than that.

But given Boehner’s history of ineffective half measures designed to give the appearance of effort without risking any negative media attention, it is unlikely that he will take the steps necessary to achieve repeal. 

This Speaker is not prepared to die on that hill. He would rather live to capitulate another day. There is a pathway open even to the weak-willed Boehner, however. He can defund the law. 

Cato’s Michael Cannon lists plenty of reasons why states should not create exchanges, and these reasons make clear why Congress would be wise not to fund their creation at the federal level.

Even if Congress funds Obamacare just as its creators envisioned, Cannon believes, the system the law created will collapse on its own. The trouble is that it will probably do tremendous damage, both to the health care system and the people it should serve, before its collapse forces redesign.

As the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor (speaking for himself) put it:

Similarly, the Speaker could at least use a bill Senate Democrats want force to force them to send a Balanced Budget Amendment to the states. Amendments do not require the President’s signature.

It’s not clear who would replace Boehner.

In the recent election, Democrats targeted Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite, and not Boehner. It’s easy to see who the Marxists actually fear, and it’s not the pliable Boehner.

ABC News asked Boehner about Rep. Paul Ryan. Boehner dismissively termed Ryan a “wonk”, implying Ryan was too much of a numbers guy to be an effective leader.

Boehner led the movement to depose Newt Gingrich after Gingrich was too aggressive for the squeamish Boehner during the Clinton Administration. It will be interesting to see if the individual members of the House will attempt to choose another leader or if they’ll fall in line behind Boehner again as they’ve done so many times before.