Did Boehner Spoil the GOP by Sparing the Rod?

Elspeth Reeve
Did Boehner Spoil the GOP by Sparing the Rod?

While pundits wonder why President Obama won't impose his will on House Republicans, the  mystical manipulation mystery for GOP Congressional leaders is why they won't impose their will on House conservatives. It might be because their leaders -- Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy -- let the conservatives elected in 2010 get away with too much from the beginning. "To veteran Republicans and former lawmakers, the three were too tolerant of the younger generation from the outset," The Washington Post's Paul Kane writes. And the recently elected conservatives have been openly defiant of their putative leadership from the start. One congressman started shouting during a meeting with 200 lawmakers about the fiscal cliff on New Year's Day. Boehner almost lost his speakership -- and was saved by God. The cabal of Republicans who wanted to oust him decided against it after some prayer. Florida Rep. Steve Southerland "read the story of Saul and David, as the king of Israel tried to kill the future king. David wins and, with a chance to kill the king, decides to spare Saul." Boehner, too, would be spared. Southerland says, "He’s not a God of chaos, he’s a God of order."

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The civil war within House Republicans divides along familiar regional lines. Even a short-term agreement, "the Williamsburg Accord," which has temporarily eased the fighting between the factions, is named for their contentious retreat in Virginia"The top five leaders hail from blue states that voted for President Obama, making them out of step with a conference dominated by red-state Republicans," the Post reports. This poses both ideological and personality problems. "Boehner boasts that his style is to not 'break arms' when searching for votes, and McCarthy is a collegial Californian whose disposition is to spare the rod when it comes to the whip job," the Post reports. It means Boehner and crew have a tough time convincing conservatives to accept compromises, which perversely makes it even harder to get the spending and tax cuts the conservatives want. With the fiscal cliff, Democrats had negotiated Republicans into a corner -- taxes were guaranteed to go up. The current budget debate doesn't look great for the House GOP, either. "Several veteran Republicans," Kane writes, "fear there are too many extreme budget hawks to approve a deal with GOP votes alone, further hampering their leverage in negotiations with the Senate."

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Even banal tasks are difficult. As Politico's Jake Sherman reported, in April, it took House Republicans two days to approve a measure to extend federal authority over helium reserves -- "which Democrats would’ve allowed them to pass by unanimous voice vote."  Last week, Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen suggested Boehner had given up trying to bend the House to his will. "You’re missing my style, all right?" Boehner told Politico. "I don’t need to be out there beating the drum every day. My job as the leader is to build my team, encourage my members, help provide leadership to my members and committee chairs and let the institution work." The team is not yet built.