Much has been written about Speaker of the House John Boehner’s recent resignation announcement. The news wasn’t particularly surprising to me. The only element of surprise to me was how long he held on.
Today being speaker means trying to govern when a sizeable and very vocal part of your own party actively wants anarchy instead. He’s been between a rock and a hard place since the Tea Party stormed Congress after the 2010 election. When members of the Tea Party threatened to introduce a motion to “vacate the chair” (remove him from his position as speaker) if Boehner failed to fight on a spending bill to keep the government running, Boehner decided to call it quits.
The Tea Party was essentially demanding that both the Senate and the President agree to certain cuts in government spending that neither would agree to in order for the government to stay open, i.e. extortion. Either they are convinced that this hardball approach would yield results hitherto unattained or they believed that shutting down the government is a necessary sacrifice to attain these ends. Compromise was simply not an option to these Tea Partiers, although our constitutional system by design moves parties toward compromise. No one branch of government is given all the power. To refuse to compromise is essentially anti-constitutional, and is arguably treasonous.
But the Tea Party, which supposedly is overrun with people who greatly respect the U.S. constitution, is demanding that the Senate and the president agree to all of its demands and won’t entertain the idea of meeting in the middle somewhere. All of its demands must be met or it will shut down the government indefinitely until they agree to them. Boehner’s resignation provided breathing space for a continuing resolution to keep the government open October 1. However, this merely postpones Armageddon because in November the government will run out of extraordinary means to avoid going over the debt ceiling. And the Tea Party in the House would prefer to let the U.S. government default on its debt for the first time ever rather than compromise on any of its demands.
One problem with being angry is that it becomes impossible to think clearly. And that’s what will happen if House Republicans allow the government to default on its debts. When this happens someone is going to get a haircut. Most likely it will be these Tea Partiers. The Treasury Department (or more likely the President) will have to decide which creditors get paid and which won’t.
The most vindictive way for the president to wreak revenge (and since he’ll be leaving office, there is no downside) would be to halt all federal payments to congressional districts represented by members of the Tea Party. This is playing hardball, something I suspect President Obama is too civilized to actually do. But it would ensure the end of the Tea Party almost for sure. All it will take is for one grandma in these districts to not get their social security check at the start of the month. Tea Partiers would be out of congress entirely after the 2016 election. It could possibly be the end of the Republican Party as well. It makes a certain amount of sense that those who represent people that want anarchy should be the first to experience its downsides.
In any event if the debt ceiling is not raised, some creditors would have to wait until revenue is collected to get paid. Maybe payments would be a first in, first out queue. More likely the president would prioritize payments favoring social security and Medicare and defer payments to troops, defense contractors and holders of U. S. treasury bills. In short, the power would move toward the Executive, weakening the hands of the Tea Party.
They don’t understand this, of course, and that’s because they are angry and not thinking clearly. Aside from higher interest rates that our creditors will demand in the future to fund our government, those most damaged are likely to be those who are pushing for anarchy. If it happens it will be an expensive lesson in governance, but perhaps a necessary price for the country to pay to elect men and women who will actually govern. And governing requires compromise.
If that’s what it takes to make the Tea Party see the light, bring it on I guess.