Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Playing Chicken With The Train

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 28, 2009

“I’m big and black, clickety clack, and I make the train jump the track like that”–Cowboy Troy…because, hey, how often do you get to open a political post with a Hick-Hop quote, right?

One has to question whether or not John Boehner is clinically stupid. I’m sorry, I know that’s a fairly harsh lede, but really, Mr. Boehner, have you lost not only your mind but your will to lead the House GOP back into a position of at least some authority after the 2010 midterms?

Yesterday saw President Obama’s barreling freight train take a short ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with the House GOP on their own turf, in the Capitol itself. Mr. Obama, who has built a national popular groundswell on the concept of a post-partisan Presidency has also done something a bit more realistic amongst the political cognoscenti– he’s made them understand that as far as the media is concerned that groundswell is at least founded on a sincere effort to work across the aisle.

How– no, why– then would Mr. Boehner try to marshall a lockstep partyline vote ont he Stimulus Package and show his hand before Obama convened the meeting with the House GOP? Is there a worse move that Mr. Boehner could have executed than to put a nation hungry for cooperation and terrified of where the economy is going than to show that he will not even pretend to cooperate and will let the economy burn while he plays politics with our lives?

I understand that there are philosophical differences between President Obama’s vision of how to fix the economy and, say, Jeb Hensarling’s or Jim DeMint’s in the Senate. They are part of a legitimate policy debate and absolutely need to be explored– which is what the President was doing on the Hill yesterday. It’s easy to spout a cynical view of the meeting and say that Obama went to simply break the GOP to his view, but it would also be an incorrect view; if Obama wanted a simple show he would’ve summoned Boehner, Eric Cantor, and a few other GOP Leadership/fiscal conservatives to the Oval for a photo op. He didn’t– in his first week he actually went to the Capitol rather than bringing people to the White House and met with the full GOP Conference. If you aren’t a DC type, what you need to understand is that a President leaving his turf to go to the Hill for something like this is a sign of one of two things– a defeated President or a hell of a lot of respect. Clearly, Obama is no defeated President.

So, in said hungry country, a wildly popular and brand new President humbles himself by going to the Hill as a sign of how willing he is to work with a loyal opposition. What is the media treated to by his hosts? A pre-meeting flurry of press avails featuring GOP leadership and ranking members saying that they are voting against the plan before even hearing what President Obama has to say. Politically, this is madness.

What Minority Leader Boehner is trying to do is clear– he’s trying to carve out a position for the GOP for 2010 by opposing government spending. Forgetting how laughable that is after the last eight years of GOP largess, it is understandable– he’s in a failing and falling minority and his only “traditional” lifeline is to stake out a position diametrically opposed to the Democrats and appeal to his base. By doing this, however, Rep. Boehner ignores a few things. First, America is scared and looking for someone to do something to get the long process of fixing our economy under way and, rightly or wrongly, they are blaming the traditional GOP positions and personalities for creating the crisis. The way for the GOP to start picking up seats is, clearly, not retreating to those positions. Second, Mr. Boehner is courting the tag of being an obstructionist, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Either way, it is the absolute wrong tenor for him to be taking– people want an amalgam of Democratic & Republican positions to make up this bill but they’ll settle for a purely Democratic one. Boehner, if he wants to forestall another dramatic loss in 2010 (and another serious internal challenge to his leadership this Spring), needs to get some of his positions into bills like this by cooperating and showing that the GOP is capable of governing at all.

Right now, that capability is seriously in question.


6 Responses to “Playing Chicken With The Train”

  1. Chancellor said

    Your point about the press releases and the implication of a Presidential visit on their turf are both good points. Even though I’m not an Obama fan, putting out those press releases with that timing was incredibly petty and classless with Obama showing a very high level of respect for the minority (and opposition) party by visiting them on their turf this early in his term.

    Now, that being said, the plan Boehner will vote against is not Obama’s plan – it’s Pelosi’s, and even the President has noted significant differences between his plan and the Speaker’s plan. Obama’s made it pretty clear that he favors much more of the Senate plan, which incorporates a number of the concessions Boehner’s looking for – especially the AMT concession. But no matter what President Obama promised to the House GOP during the meeting, it won’t – and shouldn’t – make one iota of difference in their vote if the bill brought to the floor by Pelosi doesn’t incorporate those promises. And, IMO, there’s not a snowballs chance in Hell Pelosi will let that happen in the first pass. After the conference committee, maybe. But now…no way.

    Much as I dislike Pelosi, I do actually respect her stand here. She clearly believes the Dems have a mandate to implement their plan without any or much compromise. Maybe they’ll have to throw two or three of the moderate GOP Senators a bone occasionally to get past filibusters, but that’s it. It entails notable political risk, but let’s face it, if economic conditions continue to turn down over the next two to four years, it’s not the GOP that’s going to be blamed.

  2. sharptalons said

    From the elusive prism of a conservative, its really a “win, win” scenario for the GOP’s congressional bloc considering their abysmal approval rating. Moderates in the house were cleaned out in the last election cycle and this “line in the sand” can do nothing but help republicans bandage the bleeding brand in the future. What do John Boehner and Eric Cantor have to lose by opposing the progressive freight train, which has signed off on this risky endeavor? Absolutely nothing, even if its an empty gesture on their part. If they play their cards right, 2010 is likely to be a year of republican with the democrat’s enormous trump card relegated to the sideline at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

  3. Chancellor said

    Hey, ST!

    I don’t know that this is a win-win for 2010 for conservatives or not. While I don’t put Boehner in the Harry Reid level of incompetence, neither are we talking about LBJ here, or even Mitch McConnell. Grasping defeat from the jaws of victory by Boehner would not surprise me in the least.

    But I do agree Boehner has little to lose by having opposed the bill – if it’s successful, the GOP certainly isn’t going to get the credit, and if it fails, likely not much of the blame…unless they sign onto the bill.

  4. Bob Kohm said


    Agreed that this isn’t the final bill that will pass the conference committee nor is it the one that Obama wants to pass, but the generation of bad will and the constant noting of the party-line vote in all of tonight’s coverage make this a black mark for Boehner’s folks. What sticks in the short-term mind of the average voter is that the GOP went party line when Obama came to them in a spirit of post-partisanship. What sticks long term is the trend line whose base point was set today. You’re going to lose so you let some of your flakes vote their conscience and avoid the press hit; you still get decent party cohesiveness but without the bad taste. Boehner as a leader makes Pelosi and Reid look like LBJ or Tip O’Neill.

    Thanks for commenting!


  5. Bob Kohm said

    Clearly I disagree, ST. In this environment you find a way to get aboard the freight train and prove that you can steer the damned thing. Standing in its path only makes for a messy corpse. Co-opt it, on the other hand, and you shed the GOP’s horrible recent rep for being inflexible gridlockers and get back on the field in the public’s mind.



  6. Chancellor said

    Boehner worse than Reid? Wow..I can’t go that far. They may be dumb and dumber, but I have to go with Harry as “dumber”. 😉

    If I were in the Minority Leader’s shoes, I’d have played it this way – vote hard against the original bill, and play it up as “Pelosi’s Bill”, not Obama’s, and clearly outline the differences. I’d have also been far more respectful toward the President, and came right out and said that “we could have supported this bill if it had some/many/all of the compromises President Obama discussed with us.” Once the conference committee bill gets into play, find 2 or 3 significant items they want in the bill, and be happy if they get 1 or 2, and then allow folks in swing districts to vote for the bill since it’ll undoubtedly pass anyway. The big winner for the GOP, IMO, is the AMT termination. Given the income level the AMT will hit this year, it will impact many who are middle to upper middle class, and may well be swing type voters.

    All in all, it really won’t make much of a difference. The Dems are in control and should be able to pass whatever they want. Barring vast concessions from the Dems (when pigs fly, IMO), the GOP might as well oppose most of what they put forward. The next two elections are going to come down to the Clinton truism – “It’s the economy, stupid”, and if the Dems get it right, they’ll be back in dominance as they were from the 60s through 80s. If they get it wrong, well, I’ll have the pleasure of calling Harry Reid the Minority Leader…or, better yet, a private citizen. The House is far less likely to turn – the economy would have to go places none of us even want to consider for that to happen, at least in 2010.

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