This speaker speaks, but no one listens

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, could not get members of his own party to line up last week behind his proposed “Plan B” initiative on deficit reduction.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, could not get members of his own party to line up last week behind his proposed “Plan B” initiative on deficit reduction.
Published Dec. 27, 2012

Call me a sentimentalist, but as the nation inches ever closer to the fiscal cliff, don't you find yourself wishing for a nice, hazy smoke-filled room full of plotting pols and cracked skulls?

Perhaps it's my inner Chicago ward-heeler, yearning to breathe the pungent air of dealmaking, but just about anyone from New York, or Boston, or Philadelphia, or (and let us pause for a moment of wistful silence) the splendidly corrupt Tom Pendergast's Kansas City, knows this absurdist fiscal cliff nonsense could be resolved in less time than it takes to properly smoke a cheap stogie.

You know what this contrived crisis needs? Less tea party. More Tammany Hall.

If we've learned anything from the "Real Idiots of Washington, D.C." soap opera unfolding along the banks of the Potomac over the past few months, it is this: House Speaker John Boehner has to be the most stumblebum leader of the lower chamber in history.

How bad? Boehner has managed to make Rufus T. Firefly, Groucho Marx's leering, hapless leader of Freedonia in Duck Soup, look like Winston Churchill. He's Baghdad Bob, only with less credibility.

Forget party. Forget ideology.

It is the job of the House speaker to cajole, arm-twist, charm, threaten, massage and otherwise use his considerable authority to force others to conform to his or her agenda. Or put another way, what's the point of being speaker and having all that power if you can't ruthlessly abuse it?

We teeter on the precipice of a financial disaster that could unravel a slow but steadily recovering economy. And yet Boehner, after endless meetings with President Barack Obama in which they reached broad agreement, has been unable to sell the deal to a subset of tea party pelts within his own Republican caucus.

Good grief. Spanky had more clout with the Little Rascals.

Regardless of your politics, if you are a certain age and have even a passing understanding of American history, can you remotely fathom prior House leaders such as Joe Cannon, Sam Rayburn, Tip O'Neill, Newt Gingrich and even Nancy Pelosi tolerating an internal insurrection within their own party to undermine the will of the speaker?

There was a time not so long ago when renegade lawmakers who publicly broke ranks and embarrassed the speaker might find themselves reassigned to the sub-sub-subcommittee on the study of ear wax and had their offices relocated to a kindergarten school desk in the middle of the National Mall reflecting pool.

As Steve LaTourette succinctly said when he observed it was the same cadre of tea party "chuckleheads" who have obstructed Boehner's leadership and "screwed this place (the House) up."

By the way, LaTourette is a Republican House member from Ohio who is retiring from a safe seat because he's grown tired of trying to get anything accomplished in a body that has become more dysfunctional than Lindsay Lohan meets Charlie Sheen.

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It was Boehner who sowed the seeds of his own political gelding.

LaTourette noted Boehner had attempted to make nice-nice with tea party members, but instead all they did was turn his speakership into a post with less sway than Todd Akin at a Planned Parenthood convention.

The tea party's idea of negotiating a budget deal is holding their breath and stocking up on meals-ready-to-eat in their survivalist bunkers. But the fiscal cliff isn't a scene from Red Dawn.

LaTourette noted the other day that what the tea party faithful don't quite seem to grasp (well, we are dealing with the concept of reality here) is that their intransigence will likely push Boehner to try to cut a budget deal with the House Democrats, thereby leading to a final agreement on taxes and spending that commits the mortal sin of bipartisanship.

There's been some chin-rubbing that throughout the fiscal cliff that Boehner has been reluctant to confront tea party whiners because he's courting their votes to be re-elected speaker.

But speaker of what? He has taken more dives than Greg Louganis for the sake of clinging to the illusion of power

Boehner could use what's left of his power and push a budget deal through his fractious chamber. He might lose his job, but at least he could look at the portrait of Sam Rayburn square in the eye and not see the old Capitol Hill wheeler-dealer laughing back at him.