Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 25, 2014

‘Taking One for the Team’ Isn’t a Concept Boehner Can Rely On

People looking for clues about the current strength and future prospects of John A. Boehner’s speakership should come to one conclusion: He can no longer count on Republicans taking one for the team.

There’s evidence in Tuesday’s debt limit vote to support the view that he pulled off a neat sleight of hand to shield his conference from another self-inflicted wound. But there’s at least as much evidence that Boehner’s control over the outcome was much more tenuous than it could have been — or should have been if his aim is to quell the speculation about his future in the House.

Soon after 28 Republicans joined 193 Democrats to pass legislation lifting the debt ceiling for the next year without any conditions, my colleagues Matt Fuller and Emma Dumain reported this fascinating fact: It was the fewest number of votes from a majority for a bill that passed the House since at least 1991.

That would appear to be the final nail in the strategic coffin for the increasingly sidestepped “Hastert Rule,” which dictates that every bill GOP leadership puts to a vote must muster a majority from the majority.

In the few hours before the roll call, but after Boehner announced his tactical surrender in the four-year debt limit war, he made clear he wasn’t out to run up the score for his position. Instead, he said he would revert to the traditional way of handling the politically problematic need to increase Treasury borrowing: The president’s party would be expected to pull most of the weight.

“We’ll let the Democrats put the votes up,” the speaker said. “We’ll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.”

Boehner did almost exactly that. Because three seats are vacant and 10 members were missing, 212 was the magic number to assure victory. He rounded up nine more than that, a modest cushion in case more than the expected number of conservative Democrats decided to vote “no.” (In the end, only two did so: John Barrow of Georgia and Jim Matheson of Utah.)

The precision of the execution suggested two things.

The GOP high command proved it can count when facing a high-stakes crossroads. Dropping the initial plan — pairing the debt hike with a rollback in last year’s cut to pension benefits for working-age military retirees — showed they had had taken an accurate temperature of their conference. It also tamped down some of the trash talk about the leadership team needing a course in remedial math, which blossomed after the farm bill was decisively defeated last July.

And by allowing seven out of eight members on his side to vote with the fiscally unrealistic, no-more-debt-under-any-circumstances camp, and getting what he wanted anyway, Boehner found the best possible silver lining for another very messy situation, with junior tea party malcontents once again unabashedly dictating the terms to their nominal boss.

But, at the same time, Tuesday’s close call laid bare a worrisome lesson for the speaker. It’s clear people won’t walk that plank for the good of the party unless they absolutely have to. Put another way, Boehner has a perilously small cadre of unflinching loyalists, members who will volunteer to fight his necessary-evil battles even when they’re not recruited.

We don’t know who Boehner importuned, or who turned him down. But the vote tally reveals he was largely spurned by four categories of members who — under the old school ways of doing business — would have voted with him en masse: leadership, committee chairmen, moderates and retirees.

If they had all backed Boehner, the GOP “yes” number would have more than doubled, to better than a quarter of the troops. But that’s not what happened.

Although three other top leaders were with Boehner — Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam — the other seven lawmakers who attend leadership meetings opposed him. And only two have obvious political-preservation excuses. GOP Policy Chairman James Lankford, who hopes to ward off a primary on his right as he seeks Oklahoma’s open Senate seat, and Steve Southerland II, who has the class of 2010’s spot at the table but sees his Florida re-election race only barely tilting his way.

Of the 20 committee chairmen, 15 voted “no” — although none of them currently has a credible Democratic challenger and only a couple are facing so much as nettlesome opposition in their primaries. Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin was the most prominent among them, not only because of his national profile but also because he’s always near the top when lists are made of potential future GOP speakers. Spurning Boehner on the debt hike is either a signal he really doesn’t aspire to the job — or else won’t expect his own team to live by the notion that sometimes following the leader is a part of leading. (Either that, or he really does aspire to a job on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.)

GOP moderates, defined as members who voted with President Barack Obama at least one-fifth of the time last year, were no better than split. Eight voted for the bill, seven against.

And of the 10 who had announced retirement plans, theoretically absolving themselves of having to make political calculations before any future votes, only four backed the debt ceiling increase. (That number grew to five on Wednesday, because it turns out “yes” voter Gary G. Miller gave up on his underdog quest to hold his seat in California for a ninth term.)

The most interesting cohort may have been those House Republicans who attended Tuesday night’s state dinner for French President Francois Hollande. Three of four sided with Boehner (who routinely declines such invitations): Cantor, Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers and Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce.

The notable exception, once again, was Ryan.

  • Ken Osborn

    All I can say is the American taxpayers CAN NOT afford to let these ‘Charadester’s’ to continue this charade. If the American citizens cannot trust the Speakers word then he should step down willingly or ‘We The People’ should exercise Our 2nd Amendment Rights and remove all that are not doing the will of the people.
    This is not a school yard game and should not be played as one.
    The American taxpayers deserve better, it is the taxpayers that are at risk, without taxes there is NOTHING!
    When in Gods name are people going to pull their heads out and realize this is NOT a rehearsal, so much is as stake here and here we have the school yard bully’s playing their game on Our dime!!!
    With the actions of the elected people in Our congress and senate, it’s real hard to see who they represent and I think it is time to clean house and get some true red blooded Americans to replace them and set REAL ‘Term Limits’, and those elected should live by the same standards once they leave their office just as the rest of the citizens do, no special treatment or pensions for life.
    As far as the usuper in Our White House, he needs to be removed immediately and tried for High Crimes and Treason and be dealt with accordingly.
    This is what Our Framers intended!

    • wrigney

      You’re a dangerous LUNATIC. Hopefully, The Secret Service is eye-balling you.

      In the mean time, try one of these, to calm your nerves ——>

      <<< Hands you a warm "Fast & Furious" Malt Liquor — 40oz.

      ………..Drink dat, then return to your bunker and lay down.

      GO HILLARY!! 2016 OBAMA ROCKS!!

      • Ken Osborn

        You are a very sad person, and a very Un-American person if that’s who you want to ruin our country/. Pull your head out. Also f**k the secrete service, they seem to forget they work for the taxpayers too!

        You strike me as a low life snitch! Go drop dead!

        • wrigney

          After ALL your Crying, Ranting, Wailing, Moaning and Gnashing of Teeth — guess what?

          The BLACK man is STILL in the WHITE HOUSE!!

          How does that make you feel?

          <<< hands you another cold one.

          HILLARYous!! 2016 LETS ROLL!!

          • wrigney

            I like saying Hillary 2016 knowing she has ZERO chance of winning!!

        • Stephen Barlow

          AW! Liwwel bitty bully boy awl mad now? Diaper wet too?

      • wrigney

        HILLARY SUCKS AS WELL!!!

    • Stephen Barlow

      So I have a 2nd Amendment RIGHT to remove you from this discussion?

      Specifically WHICH “High Crime”? WHAT ‘misdemeanor?

      I agree with you on Term limits. Members of Congress should get military medical care, not insurance. And they should have to wait in line like everyone else who serves their country. THAT should make them do right by the troops.

  • Rob Erta

    As Lenin asked: Who decides what is fair for whom? Who decides how much their relatives and political supporters should have? And on, and on.

  • coalgateOps

    Whereas liberty offers freedom for all, collectivism offers freedom only for those who are self-proclaimed to be “the good and the wise”.

  • Greenie Beanie

    When we develop or discover new skills to improve our own lot, we gain the ability to make a better contribution to our friends and fellows.

  • Hetero Lingo

    Since we can see many of the efforts going on around us in a free market, we can use that information to decide upon which skills to obtain, what knowledge to learn, and where best to focus our energies.

  • Haley Schmitterbach

    While the Chinese are exploring the moon, the low-IQ democrats of the Obama regime can’t even get a website working.

    • wrigney

      The Chinese Rover is stuck on a moon rock, presently.

      OBAMA just ROCKS!!

      • Stephen Barlow

        Just like Congress was in session over Christmas, technically, they are still exploring… the same spot on the moon. over and over RED Rover. LMAO!

      • wrigney

        Actually OBAMA SUCKS!!!

  • backToSchool82A

    In this video, delusional liberal Barbara Boxer lies about Hussein Obama’s deficit record: http://youtu.be/zTaSrfHtOvs?t=1s

    • Stephen Barlow

      She’s telling the truth. Like most of your species, you don’t know the difference between debts and deficits. you also aren’t even smart enough to fact check Fox or Beck or Red State or Breitbart’s Racist News Report.

      So go BACK to school, and this time, at least do the homework on the pages with pictures>

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