John Boehner won a second term as Speaker of the House today. Condolences are in order. Who would want the job?
Boehner has been a leader without enough reliable followers for the two years since a cabal of tea party Republicans were elected, proclaimed compromise a dirty word and began doing all they could to gum up the works.
They made it impossible for Boehner to broker a “grand bargain” with President Barack Obama to cut the deficit during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011.
They kneecapped him again last month when he tried to negotiate a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. he couldn’t even cobble together enough Republican votes to pass his face-saving Plan B, which would have preserved tax cuts for all except the tiny sliver of Americans making $1 million or more a year.
With that public humiliation, Boehner was shunted to the sideline while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden did what he couldn’t. They made a deal to avoid the cliff.
To his credit, when all else failed, Boehner did what he should have done weeks earlier. He stopped trying to win the support of a majority of his Republican majority. He brought the deal the Senate approved to a vote in the House, where it passed with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes. It was the right thing to do -- but no good deed goes unpunished.
So as the votes for Speaker were cast Thursday, Boehner’s re-election was uncertain — even though the Republican majority had the votes to elect whomever they wanted and Boehner had no Republican opponent.
Boehner won, and for his trouble will find himself squeezed again between Obama and the Republican right wing when the next debt ceiling crisis hits in February.
Fractious Republicans want deep spending cuts in exchange for voting to raise the federal debt limit, and to get their way some may be willing to allow the government to default on its debts, squandering the good faith and credit of the United States.
On the other side, a tough-talking Obama insists he won’t bargain over the debt limit at all. He insists, quite reasonably, that the government simply must pay the bills it has already racked up.
So the nation could again see more tears than deals from Boehner, who may have won a second act as Speaker of the House only because nobody else wanted the job.