With the House of Representatives voting tonight to pass an implausibly right-wing debt ceiling bill after failing, yesterday, to pass the somewhat more plausible but still quite conservative alternative, Ezra Klein expressed bafflement at John Boehner’s legislative strategy:
On Thursday, Boehner’s plan made some sense. He would propose and pass a bill that was somewhat to the right of where the final compromise will be, but was clearly built to allow for a compromise. But then he lost the vote and, I worry, lost sight of his own legislative strategy.
His new priority was to show that he could, in fact, pass something. And today, he succeeded. But the cost was pulling his members further from the reality of what they’ll eventually have to accept. At this point, I don’t know what Boehner’s endgame is. What scares me is that I’m not sure he does, either.
Actually, I think the endgame just became a lot clearer, and Boehner’s job a lot easier. A week ago, the Speaker was caught between three seemingly contradictory imperatives: The need to satisfy the Tea Party bloc, in the House and the conservative grassroots, who could put his speakership at risk if they felt like he wasn’t willing to join them in a suicidal, Pickett’s Charge-style attempt to force the full “cut, cap and balance” agenda on the Senate and White House; the need to satisfy the conservative commentariat (from the Wall Street Journal and Fox News to the Weekly Standard and National Review), who wanted him to use the Tea Party bloc’s intransigence as leverage while passing an extremely conservative but non-suicidal bill that could pull the final compromise rightward; and the need to, you know, actually raise the debt ceiling. But now, remarkably, he’s on the verge of threading the needle. By trying to pass the bill that the commentariat wanted (essentially a version of the plan that Charles Krauthammer has been urging on Republicans for weeks) he’s earned their respect and gratitude and pushed the blame for its ultimate failure on to Jim Jordan, Michele Bachmann and company — the hobbits of the G.O.P., in the Wall Street Journal’s parlance. By ultimately caving in to the Tea Partiers and adding a balanced budget amendment to the bill, he’s satisfied the right-wing groups (or most of them, at least) that were mobilizing against him and averted a devastating defeat on the House floor. (He gets the benefits of losing, in other words, without the disastrous consequences for his speakership.) As a result, when the inevitable compromise legislation comes back from the Senate with Democratic fingerprints all over it, Boehner will be able to tell the Wall Street Journal editorial board that he tried their way, and Tea Partiers that he tried their way, while punting the responsibility for the final compromise to Harry Reid and freeing up a lot of his members, who would have had to vote “yes” if the final bill were more right-leaning and lacked substantial Democratic support, to vote “no” instead and protect their rightward flank.