It almost seems ages ago, but it was just Monday that President Barack Obama challenged House Speaker John Boehner to call a House vote on ending the shutdown
Rep. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, would have none of it. Instead, he reiterated demands that the president see things his way — or rather, the way of the House tea party block.
Among other things, Rep. Boehner said he didn’t think he has the votes to approve a so-called “CR” – a clean resolution to end the partial government shutdown. Maybe he doesn’t. But maybe he wouldn’t dare call such a vote because enough Republican moderates in the House would join Democrats to break this reckless and destructive impasse.
That would be humiliating for Rep. Boehner, to be sure, but one has to believe his days as Speaker are already numbered. They’ve been numbered for a couple of years — since he and President Obama reached the threshold of a “grand bargain” before Rep. Boehner was forced by the tea partiers to drop any semblance of compromise and return to confrontation.
Rep. Boehner isn’t entirely responsible for the shutdown. That’s mostly the work of a couple dozen, perhaps 30, tea partiers in the House who would do anything to stop Obamacare and discredit President Obama. But presumably to keep his title, if not his authority, Rep. Boehner has been their chief enabler, giving them more power than their numbers merit.
He knows better, or should. He must remember how much his party suffered when the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich shut the government down during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Despite having been impeached, Clinton left office popular and the GOP suffered at the polls.
And though House tea partiers, most of whom are in their first or second terms, might dismiss as scare tactics the warnings of potential calamity if the debt ceiling is not raised next week, Rep. Boehner should know better. He should at least know that the full faith and credit of the United States has been hard won and protected for generations and that it’s worth safeguarding from inflexible ideologues with an axe to grind.
We don’t know how this crisis will end, but it will. We hope the costs will be minimized and the casualties will be few. But unless he chooses statesmanship over yielding to his party’s most extreme partisans, Rep. Boehner’s credibility will be one of the casualties.