Back during the Korean War, when the Marines were surrounded by the Chinese at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a reporter asked Major General Oliver P. Smith if he was retreating and Smith said, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.” That was tough leadership.
Back in the 1990’s when times were good, with no recession and no wars, John Boehner would probably have done just fine as House Speaker, but these days the good times are a fading memory and with war and recession all over the place it’s time for tough leadership again – but instead Boehner’s getting bounced around from pillar to post like a pinball.
Take the Farm Bill: If Boehner’d sided with conservatives to fight for deep spending cuts he’d have to take a big risk: The Farm State Republicans could abandon him, team up with the Democrats, and defeat his bill.
That prospect wasn’t palatable, so instead Boehner sided with the Farm State Republicans and supported a bill to spend $940 billion – or 1% less than the Democrats in the Senate. Of course, that meant Boehner was sure to lose conservative votes but, at least, with the help of a few Democrats he might just squeeze by.
What happened next was pure Washington politics: The Democrats sandbagged him. And voted against the Farm Bill. To put the squeeze on Boehner to get a better deal.
And, for Boehner, there’s even worse news: He faces that same conundrum every time a major spending bill comes up – because the cuts are almost always going to be controversial and there’re almost always going to be some group of Republican Congressmen who’ll say, No way, Jose – we’re not voting for those cuts.
So, at least on the Farm Bill, in an exercise in what’s called ‘realism’ in Washington, Boehner’s opted for little cuts rather than fighting for big cuts.
But that lands Boehner in another conundrum: Cutting spending a hair less than Democrats isn’t likely to wash on Election Day. Republican Congressmen can’t very well vote to spend $940 billion on a Farm Bill then turn around and rant to voters about Democrats raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.