They Call Him Mr. Speaker

John Boehner outwitted the Democrats on the budget fight and kept his party united.

Amiel Ungar, | updated: 23:14

Speaker Boehner
Speaker Boehner


The Jewish Sabbath intervened before the brinksmanship over the US budget reached its exciting climax and discretion appeared the better course for me in predicting an outcome.

Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin stuck her neck out and emerged smelling like roses as she not only predicted that a deal would be reached but successfully analyzed the crafty strategy of House Speaker John Boehner. A former labor negotiator herself, Rubin spotted Boehner's strategy that recalls the famous story of the Rabbi who confronts a congregant complaining about cramped living space. He orders him to take into the house a veritable Noah's Ark of animals. When the man finally removes the animals, he feels as though he has ample living space.

 Boehner's foisted the defunding of federal assistance on the Democrats for Planned Parenthood aka abortion. This was a feint and the Democrats fell for it, electing to claim victory on that issue in return for the conceding the extra billions in budget cuts. The current speaker comes off from the confrontation much better than Newt Gingrich, his Republican counterpart in 1995, did. Gingrich basically could not negotiate a deal that would avert a government shutdown while providing his party with a victory.

The political fortunes of William Jefferson Clinton revived from then on and he went on to win a 2nd term in 1996. Today's situation is different. In addition to a changed public opinion on the deficit issue, Boehner has now managed to preserve the momentum garnered by his party in the 2010 midterm elections.

While some liberal columnists continue to portray the budget deal as an Obama victory, most commentators including those far from aligned with the Republican Party such as Politico and the BBC call the outcome a victory for the GOP and particularly for speaker Boehner. The ultimate praise from the speaker came from Newt Gingrich, a putative Republican presidential candidate, who praised Byner for keeping on message despite Democratic efforts to distract him.

The Republicans signaled, by their handling of the budget issue, that they intend to prioritize it over the social issues such as abortion. This may be regretted by some elements in the Republican Party, but the budget issue is clearly the major unifier in the Republican Party. The Republicans will follow-up this victory with even more ambitious budget-cutting following the contours of Representative Paul Ryan's budget proposals.

The Republican Party is doing the most important thing in politics, namely, shaping the political agenda. The party that controls the agenda in an election is in a good position. If the Republicans manage to harness a reasonably likable candidate to the budget issue, they have a reasonable shot against Obama in the 2012 elections.

Speaker Boehner will not be a candidate in these elections, but he will undoubtedly be more than satisfied if his colleagues and the media recognize him as a great and powerful speaker cut from the same cloth as Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill.