Opinion

The Great Debate

Boehner: The fight to hold the party line

U.S. House Speaker Boehner holds a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices in Washington

In his latest attempt to impose discipline on his famously disorderly Republican caucus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose the soft power of public mockery over the more militant promise of private retribution. Speaking at an event in his home state, Boehner lashed out at fellow Republicans who have stymied immigration reform. “Here’s the attitude,” Boehner said of his recalcitrant colleagues. ‘Oooh, don’t make me do this. Oooh, this is too hard.’ ”

He spoke not in his usual solemn tones but with a high, child-like pitch, suggesting that his tormentors were in need of adult supervision.

Back to Baker

Boehner is hardly the first legislative leader to reach that conclusion. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican who served as Senate majority leader in the early 1980s, famously said that rounding up votes was like “herding kittens.” But during Boehner’s three-plus years as speaker, he has been notably unable to prod his colleagues in a productive direction. Earlier this year, Boehner was forced to withdraw his own debt-ceiling bill after realizing that, despite being speaker of the House of Representatives and commander in chief of his fellow House Republicans,  he didn’t have enough GOP votes.

House Budget Chairman Ryan speaks during a news conference as he unveils "The FY2013 Budget - The Path to Prosperity" with members of the House Budget Committee at Capitol Hill in WashingtonThat’s like a general calling off an offensive at the last minute for lack of troops. What, can’t anybody count?

Actually, it’s not just a matter of addition and subtraction. Boehner’s plight is the result of forces in U.S. politics that have made the plums of another age — choice committee assignments, extra staff members, bridge repairs in the home district, even, yes, special parking spaces — less important than face time on television or a timely contribution from the neo-bosses of the 21st century, like the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Post-Partisan: Fixing our ideological divide

As Americans examine the astounding dysfunction of their government, gerrymandering is usually cited as the prime culprit. This narrative offers a compelling villain: venal politicians who draw district boundaries for partisan advantage or to protect their own incumbency.

On the surface, it makes sense that manipulating district lines could be responsible for the increase in non-competitive, non-diverse congressional seats and the rise of ideologues who take radical positions without fear of voter retribution. But this ignores evidence that gerrymandering is only partly responsible for the current partisanship — and that eliminating it will not address the calamity we are witnessing.

No one disputes that congressional districts have become less competitive. During the last government shutdown in 1995, 79 of the 236 House Republicans represented districts that supported President Bill Clinton in his 1992 election. Today, only 17 of the 232 House Republicans represent districts that backed President Barack Obama — demonstrating more partisan consistency at the district level.

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