John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who is speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has generally been a sensible individual. Yes, he energetically spouts the Republican Party line, but that’s part of his job.
Keeping that important job in the last several years has meant yielding to the influence of the tea partiers in his caucus, a trade-off that has undermined opportunities for compromise on a host of issues. If Rep. Boehner were to step down or be ousted, however, his successor would likely be more inclined to operate through the tea party prism.
Rep. Boehner and President Barack Obama came close to achieving something genuinely positive a couple of years ago. They were on the threshold of the now mythical “grand bargain” on the budget until House conservatives in no mood to compromise with the president on anything reined him in. Rep. Boehner now finds himself presiding over votes to repeal Obamacare, votes that create recurring opportunities for soundbites but accomplish nothing.
Rep. Boehner outdid himself on Sunday, stooping to a new low in remarks that we’d like to believe constitute a kneejerk defensive reaction to criticism of Congress — because the remarks were stunning.
“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” he said on CBS. “We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”
The “how many” matters, primarily because there is so much that needs doing rather than because the number is low. As for the number, this Congress has approved just 15 bills that became law, which makes it less productive than its predecessor, which enacted a grand total of 23 laws. As for how many laws Congress has repealed, that would be none.
Rep. Boehner has plenty of reason to be defensive. Abysmal approval ratings for Congress have become chronic, in large part, as Rep. Boehner observed, because of the extreme partisanship of both parties and in both chambers. “Our job is to find common ground,” Rep. Boehner said. “Yes, the country’s divided, but my goodness, there’s common ground. It’s a little harder to find today than it was 10 years ago.”
If it’s harder to find, leaders like Rep. Boehner must look harder. They must reject obstructionist maneuvers until they reach the elusive common ground where so much that can benefit this country is possible.
Perhaps then, he will be able to speak with pride not just about the number of laws Congress has passed but about what they do to make America a better place.