After five years of legislative process that dimmed the bright hopes of the 2010 election that made him speaker, John Boehner’s tenure defines the admonition: “be careful what you wish for.”
The wave of freshmen he helped bring to the House Republican Conference meant a third of our members were new; half of those — like me — had no prior experience in government.
John Boehner’s guiding tenet was to let the House work its will. He welcomed us citizen legislators, and our presence emboldened more senior members. Imbued with a sense of mandate from our near-record majority shift, a bloc soon formed that could prevent any bill deemed insufficiently conservative from getting 218 Republican votes to assure passage.
Our massive electoral victory, and the composition of our membership, set a paradoxical trap for the speaker in a divided Congress: Legislation wouldn’t reach the president’s desk without passing the Democratic Senate, but it also had to garner 218 from within the fractious Conference—or jeopardize our credibility as a force for change.
For “must-pass” bills funding the operation of the government, whatever tactical finesse John Boehner surely possessed to have reached the pinnacle of the House could be rendered ineffectual by the dissenters’ numbers.
The hell of it was that they were absolutely right on principle. Every Republican in Congress felt the urgency of the impending crisis of deficit and debt and aspired to bold action.
Boehner, co-author of the epochal Contract With America, is unequivocally a committed conservative — having worked with him, I can attest to this personally. But we also had to live with a Senate and president who presented an insuperable structural barrier.
Most of us chose to make whatever progress we could. When the debt-ceiling deadline loomed in 2011, persuaded that (technical) default would be disastrous, I held a meeting to help fellow freshmen understand the potential harm of voting no. But when a House/Senate/administration consensus plan was presented to the Conference, the “redder-than-thou” bloc objected, sending the speaker back to the drawing board.
Wily ol’ Harry Reid proceeded to run down the clock until last-minute desperation compelled us to accept a compromise even less palatable: sequestration. And the self-defeating brinkmanship mounted with each additional “must-pass” bill.
Cooler heads urged us to make the first down rather than hazard a Hail-Mary failure (including former offensive lineman Jon Runyan, whose career made him particularly credible with a football analogy), but the bloc became ever more implacable.
It will satisfy no one to state that John Boehner couldn’t have done much more than he did, but this is stubbornly the case. And our House did accomplish real spending reductions and permanent tax relief.
Was it all we wanted? Absolutely not, but it was vastly better than we would have had otherwise. Just imagine another five years of Nancy Pelosi, and shudder.
As for the other side of the Capitol, nobody, least of all the firebrands whose constituents welcome, if not demand, their adamancy, wants to know the arcana of Senate procedure, but if you don’t, the fact that we now have a “Republican” Senate that accomplishes nothing will remain a maddening mystery.
Turns out a majority isn’t a majority unless 54 can be made to equal 60, except once a year when a budget “reconciliation” bill (offering only limited opportunity to change existing law) can pass with 51 (see: Senate reconciliation to pass Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). You can’t put that on a bumper sticker.
Whatever fleets of initiatives may sail through the House under new management, they too will strand on the shoals of a Senate designed to slow precipitate action to a stately deliberative crawl.
Yes, we can “shut down” the federal government, and correctly blame a recalcitrant president, but our electoral successes in 2014 occurred despite, not because of, the shutdown in 2013. The public’s lack of patience extends in both political directions.
Instead, let’s concentrate on electing enough senators for a full 60 to pass our bills and a president who’ll sign them into law.
Our party should present well-formed, effective, inclusive, and positive ideas, not merely be the party of no. We must win not only Republican-leaning districts and states, but also marginal ones. That means recognizing that strident partisan roaring, no matter how welcome in the former, will be heard, and by very different ears, in the latter.
The next speaker must prove that rather than making noble but futile stands, the House can actually govern and advance our conservative cause.
Exerting discipline to reach beyond rigid perfectionism to productive action will truly move us forward — and we can’t wish for better than that.
Nan Hayworth is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The first and only female physician to serve as a voting member of Congress, she was named one of the five “highest-profile freshmen” by Politico. She is a regular commentator on CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and Newsmax TV. For more of her reports, Go Here Now.
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