Friday, November 24, 2017

Roger Simon: The high art of getting nothing done



John Boehner used to represent the harsh and uncompromising wing of the Republican Party. And then Paul Ryan came along.

Ryan makes Boehner look like a pussycat.

The old saying was as long as you don't worry about who gets the credit, you can get a lot done.

Ryan's saying seems to be that as long as you make sure that nothing gets done, it doesn't matter who gets the credit.

Which means that Congress continues to wallow in the "don't just do something, stand there" mode, a mode that has earned it an approval rating so low — just 10 percent — that it is one step away from deportation.

Boehner is the speaker of the House of Representatives, which makes him second in the line of succession to the presidency and makes Democrats pray for the continued good health of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Paul Ryan is a Republican member of the House from Wisconsin and this week will be nominated as Mitt Romney's running mate.

Ryan is the author of a budget plan that Democrats say would result in the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in American history.

The plan would result in a dramatic change to Medicare, eventually turning it into a voucher system. So it is not being touted much during the Republican National Convention here in Florida, where the elderly like changes in Medicare about as much as they like butterfly ballots.

Republicans, therefore, speak of Medicare only in terms of how Obama is already ruining it more than Paul Ryan ever would. And Monday, Boehner broadened that line of attack to accuse Obama of making just about everything in America worse.

"He cut Medicare to pay for new entitlements," Boehner said of Obama. "Gas prices? He made them worse. The political tone? He's made it worse."

Boehner was speaking at a Christian Science Monitor luncheon. I sat next to him and was able to confirm Obama's joking description of him. Boehner, Obama said, is "a person of color, although not a color that appears in the natural world."

If tanning were an Olympic sport, Boehner would qualify for a mahogany medal. As he sat down — he answered questions for 50 minutes and left his surf-and-turf untouched — the faint smell of cigarette smoke wafted from his clothes, a result of what is said to be a two-pack-a-day infatuation with Camel Ultra Lights.

Boehner lives perilously. He tans and he smokes, signs of either personal boldness or unconcern with scientific evidence.

Boehner thinks the presidential election will be "close," but he likes the chances of the Republican ticket. In speaking of Paul Ryan's contribution to the ticket, however, Boehner engaged in political parsing of the highest order.

"Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan says more about Mitt Romney than about Paul Ryan," Boehner said.

While the overflow crowd of reporters was digesting precisely what that might mean, Boehner plunged on. "He made the riskier choice," Boehner said of Romney. "That says an awful lot about his campaign."

It does. It says primarily that Romney felt he had to make a risky choice for a running mate in order to win the election. As did John McCain with Sarah Palin, Bob Dole with Jack Kemp and George H.W. Bush with Dan Quayle. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

"It brings energy to the campaign and to the candidate," Boehner said, which has been the classic Republican praise for Romney's choice of Ryan. What it might mean for the United States of America seems to be of lesser concern.

The convention, which convened and then immediately recessed on Monday because of weather concerns, has already put the finishing touches on its platform, including the call for a constitutional ban on abortion without exceptions for rape or incest.

Boehner was unconcerned.

"You ever met anyone who has read the platform?" Boehner said. "I've never met anyone who has read the platform. Put it on one sheet of paper, and maybe Americans would be willing to read it. Maybe."

This year's Republican platform is 50 pages. Single-spaced.

No matter. What matters is getting things done.

"No one is more open to the solving of the problems of our nation than me," Boehner said. "I will sit down with anyone across the aisle. I sat down with Ted Kennedy, for God's sake!"

But what about the low esteem Americans have for the House of Representatives and the behavior of some of its members?

"Congress has been America's whipping boy for 200 years," Boehner said. "We have 435 members, and on any given day there are some of them doing things they shouldn't be doing."

Which makes me feel a lot better.

Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist.


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