John Boehner's high-stakes moment

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

An inspirational prebattle speech? A jittery plea for help? Speaker John Boehner may not have conjured up Braveheart on Wednesday for fellow House Republicans who took part in a private postelection conference call. But the Ohioan did try to rally the troops by exhorting, “When we’re unified, we’re at our strongest. Divided, we fail.”

Yet, within the hour, Boehner was out in public delivering a less combative and more conciliatory message on the need to find common ground with Democrats to avert the looming “fiscal cliff.” That prospect refers to the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the triggering of military and other sequester spending cuts early next year that could wreak havoc on the fragile economic recovery. Reading a statement to reporters at the Capitol, Boehner said, “Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans…. Let’s rise above the dysfunction, and do the right thing together for our country in a bipartisan way.”

Such is the bipolar House leadership course that Boehner is forced to set, even before his second term as the leader of the House Republican majority formally gets under way in January.

Tuesday’s elections will keep Boehner’s party solidly in control of the House in the 113th Congress, although with fewer seats, even as President Obama was reelected and Democrats gained a slightly bigger Senate majority. Taken together, the election results seem to add up to more  gridlock. Indeed, political lines could become even more hardened than they were in the 112th Congress.

This is the dilemma facing Boehner, who with Mitt Romney’s loss remains the GOP’s point man in the Washington battles ahead over spending reductions and taxes. His success as speaker in the next session (as well as in the upcoming lame duck) may well depend as much on his finding common ground with the rowdiest and most conservative of his own rank-and-file members as it does in his reaching compromise with Obama and congressional Democrats.

Whether it will be Nancy Pelosi or someone else leading the Democratic opposition in January, they, too, could come to be judged on how well they rein in their members who sit furthest to the left in what will now be an even more liberal caucus. (In the election’s aftermath, the San Francisco lawmaker and former speaker was keeping mum on whether she will seek to remain the top House Democrat after another election that leaves her party in the minority, although many colleagues think she will. Democratic Caucus leadership elections are scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving.)

But for both Republican and Democratic leaders, the key to success could be convincing their hard-liners—in the face of a national fiscal crisis—to focus on more definable policy achievements instead of obstinately refusing to consider anything short of their ideals, and therefore do nothing. Will they come to understand incrementalism? Will they come to understand that to get to point Z, they first might have to settle for X?

“The election certainly was not a mandate to either of them to be rigidly ideological on the left or on the right,” says James Thurber, a professor of government and the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. He says that it’s much more important for Boehner, as the leader of the majority, to find some way—to do some leading—to marshal the support of those on his right.

Read the rest at NationalJournal.com.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.