About an hour after President Obama held a pretty impressive press conference at the White House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hosted a much briefer event -- 5 minutes compared to 68 minutes -- in which he made several odd-but-important claims.
To be sure, much of the rhetoric was the usual nonsense, which has become little more than annoying background noise. The Republican leader said, for example, the president "refuses to negotiate," which is largely the opposite of what Obama actually said. Boehner also gave a brief lecture on "the way our government works," as if it's normal for a major party to ignore election results, shut down the government, and threaten a sovereign debt crisis unless its demands are met.
I was particularly amused when the Speaker said, "This isn't about me and frankly, it's not about Republicans. This is about saving the future for our kids and our grandkids." Apparently the fight has become about deficit reduction, despite the fact that the deficit has already been cut in half; despite the fact that Boehner has rejected a series of bipartisan measures that would reduce it further; and despite the fact that Boehner voted to add Bush's two tax cuts, two wars, and a Wall Street bailout to the national charge card.
But that wasn't the really funny part. This was:
"So the president's position that, 'Listen, we're not going to sit down and talk to you until you surrender,' is just not sustainable.... What the president said today was, if there is unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk to us."
This is the argument that raises legitimate questions about whether Boehner is simply in over his head -- it's quickly becoming apparent that he's simply not well suited for the office he currently holds and not at all prepared for the responsibilities that have overwhelmed him.
In this case, the Speaker of the House literally doesn't seem to understand what the word "surrender" means, which regrettably doesn't discourage him from using it.
Obama isn't asking anyone to "surrender"; he's asking Boehner to move forward on the same policy Boehner supported a month ago.
The Speaker sometimes struggles with the details, but this one really isn't complicated. In the spring, Boehner supported and passed a "clean" spending bill with no extraneous demands and no extortion scheme. In early September, Boehner again endorsed a "clean" spending bill with no extraneous demands and no extortion scheme.
Let's make this plain: what Boehner is condemning as "unconditional surrender" is his own preferred policy. Does the Speaker not understand this? Has he forgotten his own proposal from five weeks ago?
The White House doesn't want anything extraordinary here -- Obama is willing to support a straightforward spending measure with no strings attached and he's asked Boehner to do the same. The result is a center-right compromise, with low spending levels liberals don't like at all. Since the Speaker has spent nearly all of 2013 endorsing this position, anyone who took his latest tantrum seriously isn't paying close enough attention.
As of this morning, Boehner's official position is that (a) Congress needs to meet its responsibilities; (b) if Congress fails to meet its responsibilities, the results will likely be catastrophic; and (c) Republicans will refuse to meet its responsibilities unless Democrats accept concessions intended to make GOP extremists happy.
If there's a defense to justify such madness, I haven't heard it.