John Boehner ends his reign as speaker of the House of Representatives at month's end. He should move the nation forward and save the GOP from itself before he goes.
A speaker vote is set for Thursday, but the wrangling over who gets the gavel is getting vicious. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is still the favorite, but his remarks suggesting that the House's Benghazi hearings are a political attack on Hillary Rodham Clinton hurt him. And the most conservative members of the caucus fear he may be -- like Boehner in their eyes -- too willing to compromise.
McCarthy's bumpier path might further complicate Boehner's agenda. But even so, Boehner still has some powerful moves. As a speaker no longer concerned with keeping the job, he can bring up any bill for a vote. And when he does, there are many sympathetic Democrats who will support him even as the most conservative members of his own party scream bloody murder.CommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in NewsdayCartoonsJimmy Margulies cartoons
Already, the Ohio Republican's resignation deflated a demand by his most conservative members that he either get Democrats to go along with defunding Planned Parenthood or shut down the federal government. Now the government is funded through Dec. 11 thanks to a deal between President Barack Obama, Boehner and the Senate. Obama says it's the last stopgap he will sign, meaning he's demanding a return to the normal give and take of bipartisan government.
Boehner could accomplish quite a bit more in the next four weeks and take several constantly thorny issues off the table for a while. That would allow Democrats and Republicans to avoid falling back into the same old fights.
With a combination of moderate Republicans and some Democrats, Boehner could pass bills his more conservative members won't support. Here are a few he should move forward that would truly cut down on near-term bickering.
Permanently fund the Zadroga Act. The inability of our nation to agree to forever pay for the medical needs of 9/11 responders is a disgrace, particularly to the Republicans who stand in the way. Boehner could do them no greater favor than to resolve this issue.
Raise the debt limit. This is always a prime opportunity for fractious bickering and threats of a federal shutdown. But the truth is that federal spending -- and thus, borrowing -- is approved when Congress appropriates money, not when it agrees on this artificial and, some say, constitutionally unnecessary mechanism. Boehner should introduce a bill that not only increases the nation's borrowing cap but also increases it enough to put the next battle over this issue several years out.
Replenish the Highway Trust Fund. It is not in any members' best interests to have bridges and roads collapsing. This pot has been inadequately funded for years because the gasoline tax hasn't been raised from 18 cents per gallon since 1993. It could be increased, but there are also some innovative ideas for funding that involve luring foreign profits back to our shores. One way or another, fix this. First-class countries have first-class infrastructure.
Pass an annual budget. This would be difficult but not impossible, and the word is Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Barack Obama are already talking about it. It would be the ultimate housecleaning that allows Congress to move on.
Renew the Import-Export Bank. It supports a lot of domestic jobs by providing financing to buyers of the products of American manufacturers. The bank doesn't cost taxpayers money, and much of its support goes to small- and medium-sized businesses, including those on Long Island.
Last week, Boehner said, "I don't want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there."
If he did so, it would be a great exit and a better way to remember a speaker who otherwise will be known for all the things he was never able to do.