IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Boehner's instincts fail him again

Associated Press

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), two months ago:

Republicans' efforts to undo President Barack Obama's health care reform law appear to have come to an end, as House Speaker John Boehner described it Thursday as the "law of the land."

In an interview with ABC News, the nation's top elected Republican seemed to indicate that Congress wouldn't engage in the type of repeated repeal votes the way it had in the past two years.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), three days ago:

"This week, the House passed Republicans' balanced budget that fully repeals and defunds ObamaCare to protect families, workers and seniors from its devastating consequences. The House will continue working to scrap the law in its entirety...."

Note the amount of time that's elapsed: we're not talking about Boehner changing his mind over the course of three years; we're talking about taking wildly different positions over two months. In January, the Affordable Care Act is the "law of the land," and Congress has better things to do than to waste time trying to repeal a law that isn't going anywhere. And in March, Boehner reversed course entirely -- congressional Republicans have already voted several dozen times to repeal the reform law, and the Speaker sees no reason to become more constructive now.

I don't know Boehner personally, but I suspect what he said in January was sincere -- the guy probably doesn't want to be known as the Speaker who pointlessly spun his wheels, voting repeatedly on health care for no particular reason, so as the new Congress got underway, he envisioned a more productive session for governing. And then the Speaker was reminded what party he's in and how little his caucus cares about constructive legislating.

But the larger point gets back to something we talked about on Thursday: I suspect Boehner's instincts aren't as ridiculous as his caucus'.

Pressed for an answer, before he has time to do the full political calculation, Boehner reflexively takes a sensible line on everything from taxes to energy to immigration. Even in 2011, during the debt-ceiling crisis he didn't want to instigate -- his instincts told him this was a bad idea -- Boehner's gut told him to take President Obama's offer for a "Grand Bargain." He had to reverse course when his allies balked.

When the Speaker's followers tell him to change his mind, he puts his head down, and does what he's told to do.

The problem isn't necessarily that the House Speaker is a right-wing ideologue, but rather, that he's weak in the face of pressure from right-wing ideologues. It might help explain why Boehner struggles in his post -- he's not allowed to follow his own instincts, which would otherwise serve him well, because of the radicalization of his caucus.