Here’s a theory: Speaker of the House John Boehner is sick of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (second only to Boehner among GOP House members). First the news that prompted this theory, then the rationale:
Reports came out today that John Boehner kicked four of the less obedient, less compromising Republicans off of committees, and the far right is steamed. GOP Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (Kansas) were removed from the House Budget Commtitee, and Reps. David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Walter Jones (N.C.) were deleted from the rolls of the Financial Services Committee. Huelskamp and Amash were Tea Party favorites, who regularly voted against Boehner, because they refused to compromise on tax issues. Jones has spoken out against the Afghanistan war. Huelskamp called his removal from the Budget Committee “vindictive.”
So, what does that have to do with Eric Cantor? He’s the leader of the no-compromisers in the House, and the biggest reason we are in fiscal cliff stalemate, perpetually slathered with non-stop media coverage. Rewind the tape back to the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations: Boehner and Obama made a decision to work together. Boehner reportedly told Obama, “Let’s lock arms and jump off the boat together,” which is totally romantic, and more importantly, the sort of willingness to make a deal that seems so rare these days between Republicans and Democrats.
They worked out a deal: a modest tax increase on the rich (the very one that is so contentious right now) and some very substantial cuts to a number of programs, including social security. Cantor got word of the deal, rallied his anti-tax troops, and told Boehner that House Republicans would not pass that deal. Conservative New York Times columnist called the deal “the mother of no-brainers:”
A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.
But, as Brooks concluded, this was and is not a normal Republican party, because this party won’t compromise, not with Cantor leading a sizable tribe of Republicans, many of them Tea Party-backed, who won’t take any deal that raises anyone’s taxes. The only “deal” that was reached was the one that gave a temporary extension to all the Bush tax cuts, and set them to expire, and a host of cuts to take place on January 1st, unless another deal was reached. Once again, Boehner and Obama are trying to make that happen.
Boehner wants the deal, but his party won’t let him offer tax increases of any kind. He can’t get rid of Cantor. What he can do is disempower some of his lieutenants, such as Huelskamp, Amash and Schweikert. To get his grand bargain, Boehner may need to assemble a coalition of willing Democrats and Republicans that are still on his side of a still-faint, but increasingly visible line between those who will compromise and those that won’t.