This is House Speaker John Boehner’s moment, his date with destiny.
With the nation perched on the edge of the so-called fiscal cliff, the President and the Senate returned to work Thursday. The House didn’t. It won’t get back until Sunday. That gives Boehner, the Ohio Republican who leads it, a few days to choose whether to protect the nation’s future or his own.
He has two options. One is to make a deal with President Barack Obama to avert the cliff that can pass the House with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.
The other is to continue down the road he’s on where the only deal he’ll embrace is one the majority of his Republican House majority accepts. That approach has delivered nothing but gridlock and the specter of a self-inflicted economic wound Jan. 1 when taxes rise for everyone and indiscriminate spending cuts begin.
Until last week Boehner and Obama were inching toward a deal that would have preserved tax cuts for all but the richest Americans, trimmed government spending and set the stage for comprehensive tax and entitlement reform to come next year.
That all fell apart when Boehner abruptly pulled out of the negotiations. He opted instead to push for a House vote on his “plan B” to extend tax cuts for all earning less than an astronomical $1 million a year, only to abandon the plan when he couldn’t round up enough Republican votes to pass it.
His intransigent right wing has eviscerated the speaker and made the prospect of any deal remote. Boehner should isolate them in their folly by making a deal enough Republicans and Democrats would support to ensure its passage. That’s what’s best for the country.
Unfortunately it could cost Boehner his job as Speaker.
His Republican colleagues are scheduled to choose the next speaker Jan. 3. If Boehner cuts a deal with Democrats, vengeful Republicans could take away his gavel and the power and prestige that goes with it.
But right now he’s an impotent speaker. Doing the deal would make him a statesman.
Time is short. Boehner should take one for the nation.