Fifty-four rebel Republicans defected from House Speaker John Boehner’s rule this week. The gentleman from Ohio, in what was likely a traumatic moment for him, had to depend on Democrats to pass the Republican stopgap budget bill.
Democratic Whip Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland told The New York Times that Boehner is “riding a tiger,” then added that the danger with this is winding up inside the tiger’s stomach. This isn’t Charlie Sheen “tiger blood” bluff talk. This is the reality of politics in Washington.
The Blue Dog Democrats can attest to that fact. They tried to out-do the Republicans and tea partiers by opposing health reform and extending the Bush tax cuts — only to be thanked with defeat at the polls in November.
In truth, Mr. Boehner cannot control the tea party. Like his predecessor, Ms. Pelosi, both major parties have their share of principled partisans. And they are also textbook ideologues.
Like some liberals in my own party (yes, I am a Democrat), tea-party Republicans don’t have a political philosophy — they worship at the altar of a political theology. Only some of these guys do not have tossing out heretics in mind — it’s more akin to burning them at the stake.
As many longtime observers of Capitol Hill now fully understand, the tea-party Republicans are turning the budget bill into a catchall for narrow, special-interest social interests. They are gung-ho on attaching non-germane social legislation such as restricting funding for abortion, Internet neutrality and regulating global warming, to the fiscal year 2011 budget bill.
Their insistence on these measures and so many others are weighing down budget compromises, and slowing negotiations to a snail’s pace. It is now political reality that Boehner will not be able to pass a bill to keep the government running until the end of the fiscal year without some Democrats.
The tea-party Republicans loathe what they see as their leader’s amoral approach, and are determined to bleed the government dry. It reminds me of 19th-century physicians who thought blood-letting would cure ailments.
This means the Republican leadership strategy of straddling the line between the tea party and the public’s demands will not work. Let’s look at that strategy.
On budget cuts, it is time to state the obvious. The Republicans put higher taxes on the rich, cuts in defense, and, in essence, cuts in entitlements off the table. They are focusing their energy now on cutting what represents just 12 percent of the budget non-security domestic discretionary.
Many Democrats, including this one, believe the Republicans are not serious about deficit reduction because if they were, they would put everything on the table — closing corporate loopholes, and ending subsidies to special interests, defense and entitlement spending. President Obama must do the same.
So why, you ask, is the GOP not willing to find common ground with Obama and the Democrats? Because they want to dictate where the cuts should come from and not look at the impact that could lead to hurting our economic recovery or throwing more people in the line for unemployment benefits.
Folks, let us face it. They aren’t serious; they’re just playing political games with the economy. It’s called the game of chickens!
This is no time to be playing strategy games. The time has arrived for Speaker Boehner to decide to be a 24/7 campaigner or a statesman.
With Japan reeling economically from its triple disasters and the world economy reflecting that impact on the global market, only serious statesmen will do.
It’s time for the president to call the House speaker and the Senate majority leader over to fashion a serious compromise that helps spur more economic growth that will bring in revenues and help to reduce the federal deficit.
Politics aside, it’s time to call on all our lawmakers to get serious about genuinely working together to pass the fiscal year 2011 budget bill before the end of the month or their next congressional recess.
That means giving as well as taking.
The alternative is more legislative gridlock and the potential for a government shut down, something Boehner says is irresponsible, while the tea-party Republicans are almost giddy about the possibility.
It’s time for lawmakers to get back to the negotiating table, offer a compromise that involves shared sacrifice from all.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.