Cutting his losses, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the House floor, bypassing the bruising fight last Fall that shut down the government for two weeks. Counting votes before November’s Midterm elections, Boehner’s strategists see blood in the water, with Democrats vulnerable to losing the U.S. Senate. Whether that happens or not, the GOP will continue to control the House and most likely have more clout in the Senate. Boehner’s decision to bypass his Tea Party caucus and avoid another bruising fight with President Barack Obama strategically keeps guns loaded, powder dry, ready to battle Democrats for control of the Senate in November. With Obama’s luster tarnished—though speech-making skills still intact—Democrats face an uphill battle trying to sell an agenda with Obamacare standing out like a throbbing toothache.
Once Obama took oath Jan. 20, 2009, he lacked the experience and wisdom to resist House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) obsession with national health care. Like former President George W. Bush whose proudest moment in Iraq turned into his worst nightmare, Obama’s signature legislation has caused havoc in the health care market. No matter how the White House spins it, Obamacare has been harmful to Barack’s approval ratings, causing the public to lose faith in his presidency. After damaging the GOP brand last Fall with a bruising debt ceiling and budget fight, Boehner decided to lose the battle with the White House to win the war next November. Zealous members of the Tea Party, still looking for a fight with Barack, can’t yet see Boehner’s wisdom, knowing the GOP can practically taste victory next November.
Putting the clean debt-ceiling bill up for a full House vote, Boehner reaches out to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to assure necessary votes. With Tea Party favorite and possible presidential contender House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) agreeing to compromise budget Dec. 12, 2013, it hinted at more strategic moves ahead. Now that the debt ceiling’s in focus, Ryan looks down the road beyond the Midterm elections. “We’re going to have to find them. I’ll be one of them,” said Boehner, referring to Pelosi’s votes needed to pass the budget. While Boehner’s vilified as weak by the House’s Tea Party, he’s smart as a fox avoiding another bruising debt-ceiling battle. GOP strategists, like Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, can focus before the Midterm elections on Obamacare not counterproductive budget battles.
Boehner’s decision to avoid another debt-ceiling battle has been met with ire from GOP lobbying groups. “Republicans are giving up because they know that winning is impossible when their leaders are determined to lose, “ read the Senate Conservative Fund’s statement. While some call for Boehner’s head, there’s no one in the GOP more experienced with political clout. Whatever hopes the GOP had with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leading the new GOP, it’s clear he’s damaged goods because of the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal. With the GOP’s Tea Party making the most noise, it’s up to senior members like Boehner to keep the GOP competitive heading into November and beyond. If he listened to the Tea Party, the GOP would end up in the same place as 2008 and 2012. Boehner recognizes that Obamacare has opened the door for the Republican Party.
When the government reopened Oct. 16, 2013, the GOP brand was bloodied for shutting down the government and furloughing over 800,000 federal workers. Settling on quick-and-dirty debt-ceiling increase spares Boehner the indignity of watching the GOP self-destruct. “Watching congressional Republicans stumble their way around the land mines of a debt limit increase and immigration reform dilemma, it’s hard to not lose respect for their political skills,” said Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore. Kilgore knows better that Boehner’s decision was purely strategic, not one of capitulation. While the government shut down pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Fl.) looked extreme last Fall, the GOP can now say they tried to stop the Obamacare madness before it wrecked the U.S. health care system. What makes Obamacre a failure is the lack of bipartisanship needed to make it work.
Heading into the Miderm elections, Boehner hopes to shift voters’ attention to the failures of Obamacare. While that’s a strategy that helped drop Obama’s approval ratings, the strategy could backfire if the economy continues to improve. With new Fed Chariman Janet Yellen affirming her intent to continue the Bernanke policy, Wall Street rewarded her with a 1.2% jump. Whatever happens with Obamacare, voters know the difference between recession and economic recovery. With the economy poised for a 3% rise in GDP in 2014, voters should repay Obama’s economic success at the polls. As former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney found out in 2012, you can’t lie about the economy when the government publishes the hard data. If Wall Street continues to rise and publicly-traded and private companies continue to add jobs, it won’t matter what happens to Obamacare.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.