In the final hours of the first day of 2013, Speaker of the House John Boehner strode despondently through the Capitol rotunda amongst a clamoring mob of reporters, looked in the direction of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and spat, “Go fuck yourself!” Not far from Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looked down at the floor and smirked. Many in the crowded hall believed the speaker’s derision was meant only for Reid, a mortal enemy of House Republicans and the poster boy for the type of bill Boehner had just watched the Republican-controlled Congress pass into law. But it could not go unnoticed that it was McConnell, a supposed ally, that pushed the onus for the entire nation’s tax hike squarely on a 16-hour binge that left Boehner no choice but to deliver his moderate and lame duck votes.
The fiscal cliff saga ended with an increased tax rate on the upper two percent of the populace, an extension of unemployment benefits, and a bump in estate taxes, but not so much as a fingerprint on federal spending. Suddenly Boehner was a pariah and McConnell and the Senate lauded as the body of Congress that avoided catastrophe. Even Nancy Pelosi hailed McConnell as a champion.
The air, one reporter noted, hung heavy with the stench of TEA Party death. Even the trusted deficit hawk, Paul Ryan, who stood as the only true representative of fiscal conservatives on a doomed national ticket, voted yes. The man for whom those of us paying attention during the campaign noted had already voted for George W. Bush’s insane 2003 Medicare boondoggle that added seven trillion dollars to the national debt, had now rubber-stamped an additional four trillion on top of it. And Boehner, who nearly 48 hours later barely survived a vote for re-election to remain Speaker in the face of a mass exodus of GOP hardliners, had to realize that whatever the president might say about refusing to negotiate the looming Debt Ceiling Fight Part II under any circumstances, he now has no power to stop it.
Not since the disgraced Newt Gingrich, straddled with an ethics admonishment and stung by the resurrection of Bill Clinton, has a Speaker of the House received a narrower victory. Two years removed from a rousing slaughter of Democrats in the mid-terms and riding what he felt was the controllable egos of first-timers, the figure head of the 112th Congress, arguably the most ineffectual in modern U.S. history, is a man with no constituency who resides over the first Republican supported tax increase since the dawn of the ‘90s.
Gremlins from inside showed their fangs when the Speaker then refused to bring to a vote the promised Sandy relief funds that had gone stagnant for 60 days, 50 or so days more than any previous natural disaster on American soil. Republican congressmen went ballistic, taking to the floor to publically flog Boehner while high-profile Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie repeatedly called his office shouting obscenities at a flustered secretary when asking for “that dunce to come and take his medicine like a man.” Christie concluded a spirited public dressing down of his party and specifically Boehner by whispering to a colleague on his way off the podium that the man who still had not returned his calls was “a pussy.”
The White House had scored its victory, however hollow, as the president won an 18-month campaign fight against opponents who argued against raising the taxes on two to three percent at the top of the wealth chain. This did not stop the Left from eviscerating Obama for caving in on the $400,000 threshold from the long-anticipated and hoped for $250,000. Later, though, economists rightly pointed out that accounting for today’s rate of inflation, the antiquated latter number only applied to when the original Bush tax cuts went into effect at the turn of the century. Had the Clinton era tax rates not been eliminated, the number would have ended up around $397,000.
It did not help public perception of Obama that several independent reports estimated Joe Cool’s Hawaii Christmas romp costing taxpayers upwards of four million dollars, making this man of the people act appear as if it was not only hypocritical, but downright shameful. And there is clear evidence that what ailed the president’s first term, what Bob Woodward in his most recent work, The Price Of Politics, called “a lack of interest to work directly with Congress” had not yet found a cure. Aside from brief calls between the Oval Office and the Speaker’s quarters, Obama let his vice president and the Senate carry his water once again.
But ultimately Joe Cool held the winning hand and everyone on both sides of the aisle knew it. Shit, the president was doing a victory lap before the final Senate tally and long before the rankled GOP-led Congress had a crack at the thing. The Republicans, flaccid and cornered, were going to let the fiscal cliff deadline come and go and then claim to be saving 98 percent of the American public from significant tax hikes, while postponing the sequestration of their beloved Military Industrial Complex. This was never in question, despite the maudlin posturing.
It became apparent by New Year’s Eve that Boehner and his fractured and soon to be scuffling Republican caucus was coming apart at the seams. Cries from blowhards like California’s Darrell Issa that Congress would counter with stringent entitlement cuts was buried under fears that Wall St. and then the electorate would sink them further into the political abyss. A complete capitulation to the quickly cobbled Senate bill from the dawn hours of 2013 was the only course of action. Boehner’s reluctant right-hand man, Eric Cantor, who in the capacity of House Majority Leader fully backed his Speaker’s half-bright Plan B that died before it reached the floor a week earlier, had broken ranks and began knifing Boehner behind the scenes while calling a press conference to state that in no way would he dare vote for the Senate’s “incomplete” bill.
There was a groundswell for Cantor’s revolt, which he did not abate by Jan. 3, when the House reluctantly re-elected the Speaker. This means there is now almost a 100 percent chance that Congress will shut the government down in a few weeks over the debt ceiling, forcing Obama’s hand in using an executive order to pay the nation’s bills and push the hardliners to begin to ask for Boehner’s head. Cantor, it seems, will not argue with this, as he is already begun to lay the groundwork for this tact.
This has been a rough few months for Republicans, but the trouble is just beginning for Obama, as there is a serious discussion internally among those in the White House that the Simpson/Bowles provisions would have been a greater salvo when it was issued over two years hence, as the murmuring on the Right has speculated that Obama’s purported four trillion dollar compromise might have looked better than what has just been passed and what awaits in budget battles to be waged over the opening months of the 113th Congress.
Before he is even sworn in, the president has already cashed in quite a bit of his bargaining chips, banking on a dissolute and frightened GOP opposition still smarting from the results of Nov. 6.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell’s Machiavellian shenanigans keep the heat on Boehner and the House and the collateral damage on the White House.
Go fuck yourself, indeed.