Does debt ceiling vote spell the end for John Boehner?

Speaker of the House John Boehner listens to a question during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, 6 February 2014

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The era of wearying, gut-wrenching dysfunction in Washington, with government careering from the brink of one crisis to teetering on the edge of the next catastrophe, could just be over.

So could Republican House Speaker John Boehner's career.

While the debt crisis may be done for 13 months or so, this signals a new and more vicious phase in the Republican Party civil war.

Mr Boehner has torn up a plan to link raising the US borrowing limit to other policies, and now both the House and Senate have passed the rise and sent it along to President Obama's desk.

The US economy will be free of the threat of default for 13 months.

It is one of those stories that are hardly a story, because it is drama averted, crisis postponed. That doesn't stop it from being a very big deal.

'Plenty of sunshine'

Since winning the House in 2010, new, conservative Republican members have used both America's debt limit and budget deadlines to try to win policy battles, mainly over spending and Obamacare.

The result has been the occasional victory, but more often a government in gridlock, the air of a permanent crisis hanging over America's fragile economic recovery.

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This is not just about 2014, but 2016 too. It is about what sort of Republican candidate fights the presidential election”

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Conservatives argue dealing bluntly with what they see as problems that threaten America's very being is more important than the sense that government doesn't work.

For most of the time the speaker, Mr Boehner, let them have their way.

But by the end of last year Republicans' rating in the opinion polls had plunged to a new low.

Finally he has had enough - there's a delicious description of his grimly fatalistic announcement to his caucus in the Washington Post.

"We're not going to make ourselves the story," Mr Boehner reportedly said, ahead of the mid-term elections.

But his darkly humorous reaction to the lack of applause from his members says it all: "I'm getting this monkey off your back and you're not going to even clap?"

No wonder he left the room ironically humming: "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-a, Plenty of sunshine coming my way."

Smart move or capitulation?
A woman looks at the US Capitol in Washington 31 December 2013 The end of a exceptionally dysfunctional Congress may be at hand but the Republican civil war could just be starting

He has probably laid down his political life for what he sees as the sake of his party.

While the Republican establishment may breathe a sigh of relief, and while he will earn plaudits from DC pundits, many conservatives will see this as grotesque betrayal.

They argue it is part of a pattern - that in the past year he has abandoned his own rule and forced through bills with overwhelming Democratic backing, defying the conservative majority in his own party.

The Washington consensus that the tea party has finally grown up and seen the light simply doesn't stack up - Mr Boehner only got 28 Republican votes.

The tea party sees this as capitulation by the establishment to a Democrat agenda and one group is already campaigning for him to be sacked from the top job.

Conservatives will argue all this could be disastrous for Republicans in the election in November.

"You can't afford to have your base demoralised and that is what is happening," Dan Holler from conservative group Heritage Action for America told me.

"These are the people who knock on doors, drive people to the polls and if they are not out doing these things, you are taking a huge risk. It may look like smart politics in DC but the idea of alienating the base in an election year is astounding."

This is not just about 2014, but 2016 too. It is about what sort of Republican candidate fights the presidential election. At a conservative gathering recently, one activist told me the candidate should be the most conservative person who can be elected. His friend disagreed - conservatism alone was the test.

But that is ahead. For now the house speaker is in a precarious position.

Mr Boehner recently complained that uniting his party around a vote was like keeping 218 frogs in a wheel barrow.

At the time it struck me that this vivid metaphor was an image, not of something very, very hard, but of an impossible task, a frustrating, annoying, pointless waste of time.

So no more herding slippery customers for John. Maybe he has decided to give up the job this year, anyway.

If not, the speaker may discover the frogs have fangs, and find himself in the wheel barrow, heading for the dump.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Looks like it's all China from here on in. Soon they'll have the world's biggest economy and they'll be calling all the shots. Can't say I'm surprised, a bit disappointed but not surprised. The US reign as sole global superpower is coming to the end of line, In the grand scheme of things it will be seen as flirting with dominance and not a lot more.
    I prefer chow mein to burgers myself anyway .

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    74. All for All

    Just weed huh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    readwriteandblue @72
    "Did you take LSD?"

    Is that what it would take in Congress, for an attempt on Truth & Reconciliation?

    What could explain such an improbably beneficial dependence? I suspect that you might be mistaken on this! Use of psychotropics is surely for most more likely to produce handicap rather than thoughtfulness. We must await the judgement of Chryses!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Hilarious. Boehner starts behaving like an adult, and his own caucus is champing at the bit to get rid of him. Pass the popcorn, I'm starting to look forward to the congressional elections this year. Should be fun to watch the GOP throw away the institutional advantage they gerrymandered for themselves.

  • Comment number 72.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Re Benghazi (65.), we are going to see the-desperate again and again bring up this incident as its the only item close to being an anti-Hillary issue in 2016! Hillary was smart enough to avoid completely the Israel tar-baby while Sec. of State so is the Democrat front runner. The GOP have no one to field. Self appointed, Ted Cruz, will crash at the first in-depth on his Gov't shutdown debacle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Chryses @63

    Boehner's difficulty uniting his party, Obama's difficulty with his country, might reflect division by star-signs, genetics, Lamarckian hard-wiring, or irresistible might in a ghettoed 'free press', but were we to explore the meaning of apparently common terms, we MIGHT find elementary confusions & simple carelessnesses in the ordering of non-commutative thought procresses

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    17 trillion & rising,are you guys sure you did the right thing in 1776 ?
    Prior to that the UK defended & it was your selves who refused to pay.
    To day you help to defend all over & every one refuses to pay.

    Chryses its good to be reading your posts again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    65. & 66 - Fox News in an intelligence free zone - does not even rise to the level of intellectual free! CNN even carries Newt Gingrich as an early evening news (sic) co host - a completely irrelevant news source! MSNBC had some spunk when Keith Olbermann was around, also Martin Bashir made points. Both crashed and burned live so left it to Chris M and Rachel M to keep up pressure on the rednecks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Many of us here in the US view the current condition of the Republican party in the House as one of nearly total dysfunction. Not raising the Debt Ceiling (and the requirement is bad law to start with), would invite economic catastrophe. Boehner should be praised for doing the right thing. The Tea-Party "wacko-birds," may capture the nomination for president in 2016, but the election? Not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    @65. MagicKirin
    Love it. Fox News and i could learn something in the same sentence Awesome
    I don't watch MSNBC because its's nonsense most of the time I don't watch Fox for the same reason.
    CNN is little better than Entertainment Tonight too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Ref # 62 and 64. We'll rwb I see you are still spouting nothing to see here move along mantra. You and your friends at Msnbc could care less about the 4 killed in Behngazi or the abuses by the IRS which despite Obama claims to the contrary are scandals
    Too bad you and mark do not listen to fox you could learn a lot

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    @57. MagicKirin

    My bad You already called Benghazi in this post.
    To be fair most normal people think Boehner did the right thing and it was the best thing for the country ( which would not have happened had Read and Obama crumpled last time).
    However the wing nut right is so rich and powerful that normal peoples views nowdays are consider wishy-washy Liberalism

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    All for All (43),

    "What is the meaning of 'the people'? And of rights 'inalienable'? ... Of that 'supremacy': its mark on our souls, the world we proudly bequeath?"

    Interesting questions, but off-topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Hello magic still spouting that "persecuted as we're conservative on the IRS" because of corse no Left wing groups were hit were they.
    Or why don't you tell us about Bengazi again Please do. I haven't heard you use that one for a while.
    Or perhaps that Companies not Unions brought about great social changes, like Child labor laws, anti Sexual/Racial discrimination laws.
    Take the floor

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    59. redirection to Obama's illegality? The Christie malfeasance is good stuff as shows him as a non-starter in the Commander in Chief stakes. Agree, Davis just like many who leverage their assets! Her filibuster to keep abortion an option for Texas women failed and she lost me on open-carry: IRS/tea party: hmmm?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Voting to raise the debt ceiling will likely cost Boehner the speakership. Sadly, today's measure of conservatism is holding the country hostage on economic & political/policies differences & voting no everything Obama. The two major parties have always put aside their differences for the good of the country. But, because of republicans personal hatred for Obama, party has come before country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Ref # 59 defend the illegal action of Obama all you want you and Mark always give them a pass. The left want to focus on a minor problem on the GW bridge. No one died there and no one was persecuted as we're conservative on the IRS and mark the NYT piece on the phony Wendy Davis was puffed. She lied about her background and divorced her husband the day she graduated

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    57. Partisanship a Democrat purview, Boehner acting in the public interest and that old anti Hillary canard, Benghazi, yet again! Wrong on all counts, as always!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    You could have pointed out that unlike Reid who has held the country hostage to partisan interests.

    Boehner is making the difficult political decision which is for the good of the country

    But that would not occur to you nor would the real scandals of the IRS and behngazi


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