House Speaker John Boehner (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
Experience is a great teacher, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio seems to have learned a valuable lesson from the Republicans’ disastrous decision last fall to let the government shut down.
The GOP-controlled House was on its way to yet another game of brinksmanship with the White House over raising the debt ceiling before Boehner called a halt, saying he’d allow a vote on a so-called clean bill to increase the borrowing limit. And the bill passed the House Tuesday with 28 GOP votes.
Republican lawmakers went into the latest default deadline determined to win off-setting spending concessions that President Barack Obama was equally determined not to give.
They were in a similar position last fall over passage of a continuing resolution to keep funding the government. That time, Boehner caved to the most conservative elements of his caucus and allowed the federal government to shut down for two weeks.
Blame was laid squarely on the shoulders of congressional Republicans, and with his party’s popularity plunging, Boehner ultimately capitulated.
Meanwhile, instead of being focused on the bungled launch of Obamacare, public attention veered to the fractures in the Republican Party.
Boehner doesn’t want a repeat of that calamity. Democrats facing voters this fall are split over whether to defend Obamacare or run away from it. Continued implementation problems, soaring premiums and policy cancellations have turned a majority of Americans against the Affordable Care Act, and the Democrats who supported it face an uphill challenge on Election Day.
The speaker wants to keep it that way. Republicans were bound to lose another debt limit showdown, particularly because they couldn’t even agree amongst themselves what concessions to demand.
Spending hawks wanted to tie the vote to deep, bold appropriations cuts, which they had no hope of winning. Boehner countered with a more modest proposal to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for restoring military pension benefits. But he couldn’t get the votes he needed.
The speaker’s move is not only sound politically, it’s also the right policy. The time to address spending is not after the money has already been spent and the bills are due. Cuts should be made up front. And the government should pay its debts.
While the White House may believe it has won a victory here, the reality is that voters know where to lay the blame for runaway spending. Although deficits have declined thanks largely to the sequester cuts that emerged from the messy 2011 fiscal compromise, the shortfall is projected to start rapidly rising again due to the Democrats’ big government policies.
Boehner is smart to keep the spotlight on those policies, particularly Obamacare, rather than to allow his caucus to spear each other as they go tilting at windmills.