In his opening remarks as the 61st Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner did what he had to do.
He put the country and the president on notice that he takes his responsibilities seriously, that he wants the House to get down to solving the nation’s financial difficulties, and that he believes that “elections have consequences.” Having uttered this latter phrase in his much-publicized meeting with Republican legislators last year, Obama should appreciate the poignancy of all three of these.
For Boehner, they mean keeping promises — and, if you cannot, demonstrating to voters that you did all within your power to do so. That’s why Boehner has made a vote to repeal Obamacare the first order of House business. Should the measure die in the Senate or by presidential veto, Boehner would have made the case that he did all he could, in the absence of votes sending more Republicans to the Senate and electing a Republican president in 2012. He also sends an important message to the president that the way to bipartisan cooperation lies not in prying loose handfuls of Republican votes to pass Democratic measures (as proved the case in the ill-fated “cap and trade” vote a few years back), but through the House Republican leadership.
For the next two years to be productive at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president needs to muster up the courage to stand up to his own base so that he and the Speaker can cobble together a plan to cut spending and make headway against a deficit all sides contend is “unsustainable.” With the budget compromise, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the ratification of the New START treaty behind him, Obama may have gained sufficient breathing room from his base to be able to meet Boehner half way. He should use this opportunity to work with Congress to grow the American economy and put Americans back to work in private-sector jobs and let pragmatism and common sense and not ideology be his guides.
Whether Obama likes it or not, Boehner has it in his power to give the president a record to run on or make his name the latest to go on a list of “failed” American presidents. The next three months will test both men’s character.