Most of what I saw until he became House Speaker in January 2011 was good — usually very good. What has transpired since has not been. Boehner and House Republicans have been unable to put the brakes on the country’s headlong rush towards insolvency driven by President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the federal regulatory leviathan, and the courts, or on their continued trampling of our fundamental freedoms.
I can already see the excuses: “Tom, the House of Representatives is only one-half of one of the three branches of government. You can’t expect Boehner and Republican leaders to withstand the daily assaults from all other quarters.” Sure, I get that. Add the adversarial, hostile, double standard-driven establishment press to the mix, and one can totally understand the daunting challenges the Speaker has faced.
There’s one problem with that attempt at justification, and it has nothing to do with ordinary expectations. It instead has everything to do with the heightened expectations Boehner and the Republican Party created in the run-up to the 2010 congressional elections, embodied in both the party’s Pledge to America and Boehner’s October 2010 speech just a few weeks before Election Day.
By that time, it was clear to almost everyone, thanks to the growing influence of the Tea Party movement, the pathetic economic recovery, and the unprecedentedly awful job market, that Nancy Pelosi’s reign as Speaker of the House was going to end, and that Boehner, with a solid post-election GOP majority, was a virtual lock to become its next Speaker.
Boehner’s speech and the party’s Pledge gave millions of frightened mainstream Americans hope that they could, and would, right the ship of state. Consider just a few things Boehner said in that October speech, and compare them to actual results.
“(This speech is) about the jobs that were promised to the American people by the current administration, and never delivered.”
At the time, total seasonally adjusted private-sector employment as measured by the Establishment Survey at the Bureau of Labor Statistics was eight million below its January 2008 peak. 25 months later, private-sector employment, which should by now have jumped to several million above that 2008 high, is still down by 3.7 million. Even those grim statistics understate the gravity of the employment situation and how little improvement we’ve seen, especially in comparison to past recoveries. Full-time employment as measured by the BLS’s Household Survey is still 6.2 million lower than its peak in late 2007, while part-time employment is up by 2.8 million. Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, over 800,000 of the 3.3 million net jobs added have gone to those who toil at temporary help firms.
“The greatest threat to job creation in our country is the flawed idea that we can tax, spend and borrow our way to prosperity.”
In the 24 months Boehner has been Speaker, the government has run a deficit of over $2 trillion, spent over $7 trillion, increased the national debt by over $2.4 trillion, and done almost nothing to contain the explosive growth of entitlements.
“Our plan cuts spending immediately, back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.”
If that were currently the case, the government would be spending about $2.9 trillion annually — still far more than necessary to carry out its constitutionally assigned functions (a topic for another day). Instead, it has spent $3.4 to $3.6 trillion during each of the past four fiscal years, and is off to a record-shattering start in fiscal 2013.
“Your government is out of control. Do you have to accept it? Do you have to take it? Hell no you don’t! That’s what elections are for! In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote that ‘we have it in our power to begin the world over again.’ In just 25 days, voters will have a chance to do just that.”
Unlike many others, I really believe that John Boehner intended to get what he described as an “out of control” government back on track. Nobody who heard that speech could possibly have imagined that he would acquiesce to an August 2011 debt-ceiling deal that put off serious consideration of what we are doing to our children, grandchildren and generations yet to be born until after the 2012 elections, seriously crippling 2012 GOP election campaigns across the land. There was also no reason to believe that Boehner would just over two years later get behind fiscal cliff-preventing legislation which by some accounts involves $41 in tax increases for ever dollar in spending “cuts,” which we know really means “reductions in projected spending increases.” A January 2 Wall Street Journal editorial asserts that the legislation involved represents “the biggest tax increase in 20 years” coupled with “spending increases.”
So what happened? Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Washington Republicans have naively believed, and probably still do despite their repeated humiliations, that there can be honest negotiations with Washington Democrats led by the most radical president in U.S. history. That is not possible.
Boehner’s only alternative from Day 1 of his speakership, something which I erroneously thought he finally realized in that 2010 speech, was to:
• Insist on constitutional grounds that the House would consider no revenue-raising legislation originating in the Senate. (Article 1, Section 7: “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”)
• Pass comprehensive legislation to accomplish the goals articulated in the Pledge for America.
• Adjourn, and don’t come back. If the Senate or the President wouldn’t sign, then the government would shut down, and it would be blindingly obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense who caused it.
The People’s House has the constitutional power of the purse. John Boehner hasn’t leveraged it. Until he or the next Speaker does, the left will rule the fiscal roost in Washington, and our nation’s rapid descent into bankruptcy will be virtually assured.
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