John Boehner

John Boehner's Missing Agenda

The outgoing Speaker of the House leaves a Republican party that's fractured and directionless.

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credit: House GOP / Foter / CC BY-NC

At the end of the month, John Boehner will retire from Congress, leaving the role of Speaker of the House to someone else, yet to be determined.  Boehner has held his role for five years, and has become a fixture of the Obama era—arguably the most prominent and influential Republican of the decade so far. While others (notably Mitt Romney) have occasionally stepped into the spotlight, it is Boehner has served as the party's most consistent leader, its institutional voice and guiding hand.

Yet during his tenure, Boehner has accomplished very little—not merely in terms of practical legislative accomplishments, which would have been difficult at best, given the power of Democrats in the Senate and President Obama's veto pen in the White House, but in terms of shaping and defining the party he led, and readying it for the future.

Boehner ascended to Speaker at the beginning of 2011 as the GOP regained the House majority it had lost during the George W. Bush administration four years earlier. Despite its gains, the party was a mess—a troubled, directionless political organization that had grown increasingly unpopular during the Bush years, and frequently found itself riven with internal disagreements.

Yet as Boehner steps down, he leaves a party that is in many ways even more fractured than it was when he became Speaker.

Boehner offered his resignation in part as a sacrifice move in order to prevent a contentious government shutdown at the beginning of October, but all he really succeeded in doing was postponing the next shutdown fight until the middle of December, when the next Speaker will be in place. He also leaves behind a related showdown over an increase in the federal debt limit at the beginning of November.

The party has no obvious leader in waiting. Boehner's most likely successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is an affable tactician. But he's already managed a significant blunder by openly admitting that the GOP's Benghazi investigation was a political maneuver designed to degrade Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, which resulted in Hillary Clinton's first big campaign ad. And he's inspired an aggressive challenger in Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has suggested that he might escalate several coming congressional showdowns.

The situation is no less turbulent outside of Congress, where the GOP is even less well-liked than when Boehner became Speaker, and Donald Trump and Ben Carson, two outsiders with no political experience, are leading the party's presidential primary.

Whatever your opinion of Boehner, or the upcoming battles in Congress, it's clear that he has not been a unifying force. He leaves a party with no direction or shared self-understanding. And at least part of the reason is that, practically speaking, Boehner offered no agenda for the party to follow.

Think about it for a moment: What, exactly, did John Boehner stand for as Speaker? What vision did he offer for the nation? What strategy did he put forth to achieve his party's goals? What, for that matter, were his party's goals?

Boehner's speakership was characterized by a desire to avoid escalating showdowns with the executive branch when possible, and he deserves some credit for this. But this desire was motivated almost entirely by short and medium-term political fears rather than any identifiable larger purpose. He was chiefly concerned with the GOP's popularity and electability, and in the end, as the party's sinking approval numbers suggest, he struggled to protect even that.

It is often said that Boehner is an institutionalist. That's not wrong, exactly, but it gives Boehner too much credit. By focusing narrowly on protecting the party's political image, he failed to take steps necessary to rebuild—or at least start rebuilding—an obviously broken institution. Boehner never pushed the GOP to grapple with the practical realities of legislative politics, never demanded that his party engage with the often-frustrating specifics of public policy, and, perhaps most importantly, never created an outlet for the party to truly reckon with the various political and policy failures of the Bush era, and all of the damage those failures did to the Republican party.

Following this path would have been difficult, and, given the structural realities of America's political system, would likely have resulted in few if any additional serious legislative victories. But these are the sorts of projects that would have been necessary to prepare the GOP to succeed, if not during the Obama administration, then in the years that follow. Ultimately, that's Boehner's biggest failure: He's left behind a party that has no more direction, no more self-awareness, no more sense of purpose, than it had five years ago.

This is not exclusively Boehner's fault, of course. The Republican party of the last five years would have been a tough beast for any Speaker to tame. It may simply be that the GOP of 2015 is a party that cannot be led. But Boehner can hardly be said to have tried.

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78 responses to “John Boehner's Missing Agenda

  1. Boehner’s job as Speaker was to put the brakes on Barry’s legislative agenda, which he accomplished. Anything further than that was delusional wishful thinking on the part of idiot conservatives who didn’t pay attention during School House Rock.

      1. ^^this

    1. Like the ACA?

      Sometimes you have to put the breaks on things by refusing to fund them after they pass.

    2. Boehner’s job as Speaker was to put the brakes on Barry’s legislative agenda, which he accomplished.

      He did? I’m trying to think of a major Obama legislative proposal that Boehner killed. I’m coming up blank.

      He has played along on continuing resolutions, thus cementing into place the huge spending increases of 2009. I think that’s a pretty major Obama agenda item.

      He also played along on the idiotic Iran “agreement” approval process, even overlooking the fact that Obama never submitted the complete agreement necessary to start the clock.

      And, of course, he played along on the Pacific Trade deal.

      So, help me out here. What has he blocked?

      1. He blocked background checks on gun purchases for mentals/retards.

        1. You should be thankful for that.

        2. Actually that might have been done is the Senate and never got to the House.

        3. Really, you can apply background checks only to mentals/retards?

          Oh I see, you don’t care who else gets swept up in your State dragnet.

      2. I’m trying to think of a major Obama legislative proposal that Boehner killed

        Barry hasn’t had a “major legislative proposal” since 2010 because of the Republicans in the House. Compare the first two years of this administration to the subsequent five.

        Boehner’s a mainstream establishment guy, along with most Congresscritters on both sides of the aisle. They’ll bitch and moan about this policy or that policy, but the government will keep getting funded, the wars will continue, and the Constitution will be gradually or not-so-gradually eroded.

        He’s maintained the status quo. I’m not defending him for what he’s done, I’m just saying that all he could reasonably be expected to accomplish while holding one half of one branch of government is stopping things.

        1. Barry hasn’t had a “major legislative proposal” since 2010 because of the Republicans in the House.

          I listed three (more if you count each continuing resolution separately) above. Two were not domestic, but I still count treat approvals as legislative.

          He’s maintained the status quo.

          Post-2010, that is Barry’s agenda: freeze spending at stupidly high levels, and keep the ACA rocking along.

          1. I think you’re forgetting just how bad 2009-2010 sucked.

            1. Nah. I just don’t think freezing the suck in place is an accomplishment or counts as opposing Obama’s legislative agenda.

            2. Actually King Obama just does what he wants and Republicans didn’t do anything to push back.

    3. Anything further than that was delusional wishful thinking on the part of idiot conservatives who didn’t pay attention during School House Rock.

      Actually, I don’t think that analysis is true here. The fact is that Boehner had proven so eager for compromise that he could no longer reliably represent the GOP caucus, particularly the Tea Party Reps. As a result, although Boehner was willing to meet Obama, not only half way, but seven eighths of the way, he couldn’t really deliver much in the way of what he was willing to give away. My suspicion is that, if the Democrats were genuinely interested in compromise and not just getting their way, they’d have been much better off with a Tea Party leader for the GOP. Yes, he’d prove much harder to bargain with, but he could actually be counted on to deliver the votes for whatever compromise they reached.

      1. Fair enough. Fact is, the Democrats have in no way been willing to compromise (and even if they were, Barry has demonstrated time and again that he is incapable of negotiation).

        1. I recall him telling Republicans that the the Democrats won the election and the GOP needs to sit in the backseat because he’s in control now. Sounds very compromisey

          1. I recall that during the ACA debates, McCain brought up a number of issues with the law, to which Barry dismissively replied, “The election’s over, John.”

  2. Whatever your opinion of Boehner, or the upcoming battles in Congress, it’s clear that he has not been a unifying force.

    He had to fend off the Tea Party crazies. Even on free trade where Boehner is a reliable supporter they fought against him just because Obama was leading the effort.

    1. What? Where did they fight Obama on this?

      1. The Tea Party is aiming to stop one of the few initiatives President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress say they both want in the coming year: more free trade.

        The effort, which has drawn interest from Democratic allies in U.S. labor unions, is aimed at killing legislation that would let the president submit trade deals for an up-or-down vote, called fast-track authority.

        Business lobbyists, in turn, are seeking the allegiance of freshly elected lawmakers to head off the threat to Obama’s trade agenda from Republicans skeptical of his powers.

        “Anti-trade sentiments are more ascendant in the Republican party than they might have been 20 years ago,” Obama said yesterday at a meeting with the Business Roundtable, which represents chief executive officers from U.S. companies, including Dupont Co. and Visa Inc.

        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/…..ade-agenda

        1. one of the few initiatives President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress say they both want in the coming year: more free trade.

          Assumes facts not in evidence: that the still-secret Pacific trade deal is, in fact, a free trade agreement.

          1. ^^this

          2. They just finalized it. It will be released within 30 days iirc.

            Then the anti-trade loons on the progressive left will start lying about it and attack Obama (who they hate).

            1. It will be released within 30 days iirc.

              Like I said, assumes facts not in evidence.

        2. But it’s only Right wingers that hate it right?

          On the U.S. campaign trail, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, slammed the deal, saying that “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again.” Republican front-runner Donald Trump tweeted on Monday: “The incompetence of our current administration is beyond comprehension. TPP is a terrible deal.” And Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has hedged on the TPP pact, despite having supported it while serving as Obama’s secretary of state.

          Critics of such panels, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have charged that the pact would allow large corporations to sue TPP member nations for lost profits if they changed their public health laws or other regulations.

          Go read the Washington Post

      2. Free trade with a multi-thousand page treaty. I’m sure ABC-Disney got the power to hunt down and eat the livers of anyone reproducing content controlled by them no matter how old the original content. Not sure how that’s going to help people who don’t employ swarms of lawyers create more value for a larger pool of potential customers.

  3. What, exactly, did John Boehner stand for as Speaker?

    John Boehner as Speaker?

    1. Exactly this.

    2. Normalizing the use of spray-on tan by white, conservative men?

    3. In the end, he even screwed that pooch.

  4. He got a higher paying gig being a pumpkin for halloween.

  5. Yes he sucked and all and continuously supported more defense spending, restrictions on abortion, and defense of marriage bigotry. But the next asshole Republican who supports more DOD spending, wars, and gay basing will be much better for libertarians. Trust us, because the RP has been fantastic for libertarians.

    1. I LOVE YOU AMSOC!!!! SOCIALISM AND LIBERTARIANISM IS TOTES THE SAME THING!!!!!!

    2. #FEELTEHBERN

      The libertarian choice for 2016 amirite?

      1. I’m not a true believer Manson-type of libertarian because I think you can get screwed over by a private corporation just as easily as by a government apparatchik. That said, yes, in the aggregate Bernie sanders is the best candidate that represents libertarian values in the election notwithstanding whatever goat sacrificer the LP nominates.

        1. I ran it through google translate:

          “I am a retard”.

          1. Huh – I used the “Derp-o-Translate” and got

            “I want cake”

            Weird.

            1. Hey almanian,

              Aren’t you one of the Reason Seven or Eight? I’m surprised obama’s goon squad hasn’t come by and raped your spouse and killed your kids yet. How’d you get away with your threats to kill a judge?

              1. ILOVEYOU AMSOC!!!!1111!!!!!1!1!! ONLY YOU CAN SAVE US FROM OBARMA’S GOONSQUAD!!!11!! THANK YOU FOR YUR BRILLIANT COMMENTS TO THS WEBBSITES!!!

              2. Hey amsoc

                No.

              3. Hey Am Soc, you’re a real piece of shit.

                1. “POS”

                  Fun fact. During that whole time when I was defending the 1st amendment rights of morons and saying that right-wing reactions to this tempest in a tosspot were overblown, some asshole commenter wanted this website to report me to the Popo for making threats to confederate monuments when I expressed apathy about whether the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue remained standing. I guess free speech is for those you basically agree with.

                  1. AMSOC I LOVE YOU I WOULD NEVER REPORT YOU TO THE FUZZ YOU SHOULD NEVER BE ARRESTED FOR MAKING THIS WEBSITE SMARTSER THAN IT IS EVERYONE EALSE HERE IS TEH STUPODS BUT NOT YOU!!!1!1!!11!!!

              4. “It’s a tad bitchy and insensitive”

          2. *Applause*

            Two LOL comments in the same thread. Well done.

        2. OMG!! You are teh smartest person in the INTERNETS for that insight!!!! ZOMGOMG!!! Stealing everyone’s property and limiting free speech is what libertarianism is all about!!!! AMSOC IS MY BEST FRIEND ILOVEYOU!!!!!!

          1. …don’t lock eyes with ‘im. Sets ‘im on edge….

        3. +1 Wal-Mart SWAT Team

        4. Ratcheting up taxes and interfering with international trade is not the government screwing over people, as all real libertarians know.

    3. Send Bohner to the camps, right, comrade???

    4. You pay your mortgage yet?

  6. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is an affable tactician. But he’s already managed a significant blunder by openly admitting that the GOP’s Benghazi investigation was a political maneuver designed to degrade Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, which resulted in Hillary Clinton’s first big campaign ad.

    That’s why you hear “cosmotarians” and “cocktail parties” in the comments section.

    1. No one else joined me in my self imposed ban on using the c word in the comments.

      1. Cunt?

        This is why Virginia Postrel hates us commenters. I blame myself.

    2. Yeah, McCarthy committed a PR blunder but I think saying he “openly admitt[ed]” the Benghazi investigation was a “political maneuver” is a bit much. Establishing an investigative committee to figure out why four Americans were murdered and why our administration lied about it seems to be well within the purview of congress.

      1. Could be both: party mainliners like McCarthy may have seen it only as a political maneuver.

        1. I think this is about accurate.

        2. I just think the characterization confuses cause and effect.

      2. You must at least admit if it’s Hillary they’re after, it is by definition a witch hunt.

  7. Ultimately, that’s Boehner’s biggest failure: He’s left behind a party that has no more direction, no more self-awareness, no more sense of purpose, than it had five years ago.

    I’ll sure be glad when the GOP gets its shit together and goes back to fighting abortion and the gays and the war on Christmas. Now there was a GOP with some direction and sense of purpose you could be proud of.

  8. Alt text for the second photo: “I’m a sad pumpkin.”

  9. Think about it for a moment: What, exactly, did John Boehner stand for as Speaker?

    Stand? He was too busy rolling over to stand.

    1. Brooks, technically you’re still standing whilst grabbing your ankles.

      1. Technically speaking, quadrupeds are standing animals…

  10. Think about it for a moment: What, exactly, did John Boehner stand for as Speaker?

    Stand? He was too busy rolling over to stand.

  11. #OrangeLivesMatter

    1. “My Secret Life As The Great Pumpkin”

  12. Whatever your opinion of Boehner, or the upcoming battles in Congress, it’s clear that he has not been a unifying force.

    I have to disagree.

    He has done a fine job of uniting the crony wing of the Republican Party with the Dems.

  13. His predecessor left her party’s congressional representation, well, actually worse than decimated after her tenure, mostly due to her successful agenda. I wonder if that fact wasn’t lost on Boehner.

  14. Impeach Obama
    End the drug war
    End WarBama’s wars of choice
    Cut the beast by 99%
    take a rest
    Have a nice day

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  16. The GOP was hijacked by the Prohibition Party in 1928, there was a brilliant white flash on Wall Street when their boy Herb Hoover showed how to enforce prohibition to the hilt. The monkey has been on the GOP’s back ever since. Between the military-industrial complex deprived of Soviet H-bombs and wild-eyed Christianofascists eager to kidnap pregnant women and reactivate the Lebensborn and Hitlejugend movements for cannon fodder for anti-Mohammedan crusades, God’s Own Pestilence has little to offer us but one-legged veterans, kamikaze hijackers and anthrax retaliations. Whoopee!
    Just as voters had to come to their senses and for repeal in the collapsing economy of 1932, they are going to again vote for whatever does NOT smell like a “right wing” ku-klux rally in defense of prohibitionism, asset forfeiture looting and superstitious fanaticism. This is evolution in action.

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