Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), leaving the White House after a conference with President Barack Obama yesterday, faces a very tough situation. Perhaps a radical idea could make this work. (Image Source: Reuters)
It is in general agreement (except in more partisan circles) that the cause of the United States government shutdown this week has something to do with the civil war going on in the Republican Party between leaders and Tea Party freshmen, all over the matter of defunding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The extremes in the Republican Party are as such that many of the so-called "defund caucus" are willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States and the fragile state of the world economy for sake of ending President Barack Obama's signature health reform, something the Republican leadership is unwilling to risk. However, Speaker of the House John Boehner refuses to consider passing a "clean" budget out of risk of losing his post as Speaker of the House due to GOP rebels. Perhaps the best solution for John Boehner, and the country, is the most radical: Split the Republican Party into two parties, and let Boehner's Republicans end the shutdown.
Let us look at the facts on the ground a little bit. House Speaker John Boehner loves his job, and he does not want to lose it. He also wants to preserve the government, and has little interest in continuing the charade that Tea Party activists insist on pursuing in ending Obamacare. However, Boehner is tied down by the GOP's "Hastert rule," named after a previous Republican Speaker (who now claims there never was one), which is essentially a confidence vote: All bills must have a majority of Republicans voting in favor in order to even bring the bill to a vote on the House floor. Boehner does not have that right now for a budget bill that has no provision to defund Obamacare, or a "clean" bill. He probably despises these freshmen Representatives for putting him in such a pickle.
On the other hand, the Tea Party activists or "defund caucus" are clearly angry at their party for even considering passing a "clean" bill just to keep going. These GOP rebels definitely have an agenda that is separate from establishment Republicans, which is almost entirely built on trying to stop President Obama from enacting any meaningful law. Furthermore, unlike other rogue party elements in recent history, the members of the GOP wanting to defund Obamacare are almost entirely self-funded without any support from traditional Republican sources or from the party itself, and are in incredibly safe districts built entirely around Republican gerrymandering in state legislatures. These members of Congress are essentially a party in and of itself. But they lack any power and influence in the leadership, and that's what gets their goat, despite being the most conservative.
So, perhaps the GOP should invoke a split in some way, shape and form. Perhaps House Speaker Boehner could expel the Tea Partiers from the party membership in some way, an uncommon tactic in the rest of the world that has not happened here at a national level since the 19th Century, if at all. In expelling those he feels would vote against a clean bill ending the shutdown and would vote to expel him should a bill pass, Boehner maintains the Hastert rule within his own party, and can move the country forward.
Alternatively, the defund rebels can leave en masse on signs that not only will Boehner pass a clean bill to end the government shutdown, but work with Democrats to maintain his position as Speaker of the House, or just on the mere stubborness of the Republican leadership. The GOP rebels already have their own funding apparatus through Jim DeMint's Heritage Action for America, Club for Growth, and other Tea Party-leaning forces, and there is enough money to get by and campaign. They could even claim the Tea Party as a legitimate political party name, making things very simple.
Even if only a few dozen Republicans remain in the GOP (which is likely) in this scenario, the country will be able to move forward. The clean bill will pass — since a majority in Congress actually do support a clean bill — and the government will reopen. House Speaker Boehner can move to preserve his job by gaining the support of Democrats, since the post of Speaker of the House is determined by the entire chamber, not the majority party. Democrats will likely take the offer, knowing they do not have the votes to reinstall Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker, and John Boehner would be considered the lesser evil to whatever the Tea Party offers.
House and Senate Republicans that supported the bill will not have to face a primary, though they will definitely have to face an opponent in the form of a Tea Party candidate (though this might be eased by the presence of a Democratic candidate as well). The Tea Party will have their victory, saying they never backed down from their principles and suffered no humiliation, and become a legitimate rather than renegade political force, no longer frustrated by internal squabbling.
Of course, the result of a complete GOP split would be a brave new era of American politics, and to make such a thing happen would require either courage from House Speaker Boehner, or letting principle overrule the desire for power for the defund caucus rebels. House Speaker Boehner, who tends to cry a lot because reasons, is not known for his courage. The rebels remain incredibly invested in the GOP brand, preserving the name while resisting the politics. Still, these are dangerous times. They call for radical ideas.