Observers were shocked when one of America’s most powerful politicians; the Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio), announced his total resignation from Congress on September 25, 2015. Naturally there was a lot of speculation about why Mr. Boehner quit, but the most likely explanation is that he simply does not want to preside over a disaster that will destroy the Republicans’ congressional majority.
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Some very disturbing speculation about House Republicans’ behavior in the US media gives a not to subtle clue as to why Mr. Boehner quit. Mike Brush of The Fiscal Times reported that some members of the Republican Congressional caucus were unwilling to support a continuing resolution enabling government funding without a budget unless federal funding is yanked from the controversial birth control group Planned Parenthood. The resolution comes up for a vote on September 30 which is next Thursday.
That could lead to a shutdown of the federal government because Congress would not be authorizing funds to keep many agencies operating. Naturally that would anger a lot of Americans including investors, the last time such a debacle occurred in October 2013 the S&P 500 lost five percent of its valuable. A lot of people including government employees, those who rely on government services and investors that need stock portfolio income would be hurt by such stupidity.
It could also cost Republicans a lot of campaign contributions as angry Wall Street insiders and corporate executives (many of whom make most of their money from stock options) decide not to send in checks. Worse, some of those contributors might decide to send the check to a Democrat instead.
It is Not about Planned Parenthood it’s About the Primaries
What’s truly bothersome is that this was being done by a small group of House Republicans simply to appease primary voters. You see Conservative Christians, antiabortionists and some Catholics are upset because of a series of videos released over the summer that seem show some Planned Parenthood officials showing interest in the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.
The Planned Parenthood opponents are a distinct minority around 59% of Americans think the organization should keep its funding and 71% of Americans think keeping the federal government open is more important than defunding the group, The Washington Post reported. As you can see shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood would be a public relations disaster for Republicans.
Yet some Republican House members are willing to go along with the battle because they do not want to face primary challenges from radical Pro-Lifers. This of course could benefit Democrats; who could pick up some House seats in contested distracts, Hillary Clinton, and anti-establishment Republicans like Donald Trump.
Now you see Mr. Boehner’s problem, his party is effectively destroying itself or its electability and making government impossible in the process. Instead of compromising for future gains, Republican house members are sacrificing the party’s future to keep their jobs.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Boehner is frustrated because there is little or nothing he can do about the impending debacle. As The Week’s Mark Ambinder pointed out Boehner is between a rock and a hard place. If he faces down the Pro Life crowd they will not support his bid for another term for Speaker and he loses his job. If he goes along with them to keep his job, then he becomes the face of government shutdown and the most hated man in America.
If that was not bad enough two equally destructive events are on the horizon both of which could make Republicans look like complete idiots in the eyes of the voters. The first involves the federal government’s debt ceiling, a Congressional restriction on the amount of money Uncle Sam can borrow.
The ceiling will have to be raised soon because the US hit the current ceiling of $18.1 trillion in March. If the ceiling is not raised the US Treasury could run out of cash in November of December, The Los Angeles Times reported. That too could lead to a government shutdown. It could also make it more costly for the US to borrow money because it could prompt the big three ratings agencies to lower the US’s bond rating, which could force America to pay higher interest on debt.
This relatively routine action could become a debacle because there are some Radical Republicans in the House that would rather see the federal government shutdown than the debt ceiling raised. Yet they are not willing to cut government spending or raise taxes to make up the difference. Some of these individuals are ideologues completely opposed to the idea of a federal deficit others are simply trying to score points with the Tea Party in primaries.
If that were not enough there is at least one more bruising battle approaching that could put Republicans at each other’s throats. The Surface Transportation Act (the law that authorizes federal funding for highway and rail transportation maintenance and construction) is scheduled to come up for renewal on October 29, The Hill reported. If it is not renewed there will be no federal money for highway construction or repair in the Highway Trust Fund in an election year.
That vote could create another opportunity for Radical Republicans to make grief for Boehner and to force debates over unpopular issues like abortion. It will also make Congressional Republicans look very bad to average Americans who are driving on congested highways that are increasingly falling apart.
The Destruction of the Republican Party
You can see the predicament Mr. Boehner was in, even if he averts disaster on September 30, he facts two more vicious and even more destructive political fights in the weeks ahead. The chances of a government shutdown or the Highway Trust Fund running out of money, both of which could be fatal for Republicans in next year’s general election are high.
The situation is made worse by Democrats who have little or no incentive to help Republicans resolve the mess. Why should they? After all a government shutdown could help Hillary or Bernie move into the White House and Democrats take control of Congress or at least the House. In politics, when you see the other guys fighting among themselves, you don’t break it up or help one side, you toss in a knife so they will do more damage to each other.
So it is easy to see why Mr. Boehner has decided to resign. He doesn’t want to preside over the destruction of the Republican Party. One has to wonder what will happen next? Will Republicans even be able to elect a Speaker or will they be so divided that that moderate Republicans will have to caucus with the Democrats to get one elected? To make matters worse some Democrats might deliberately vote for an ultraconservative Republican Speaker candidate just to make the GOP look extreme in the eyes of voters.
That will not be popular with the Tea Party which could take its frustration out in next year’s primaries. One result of this could be the victory of radical rightwing candidates in some Republican House primaries that will be unelectable in the general election.
It looks as if House Republicans are now totally leaderless and in complete chaos. That could cause a lot of harm to the country and perhaps ensure some major Democratic victories including a recapture of the house next year.