Perhaps it is time that House Speaker John Boehner take a couple of hostages in the fiscal cliff negotiations.
No, not the tax cuts or anything of the sort, but literally the Speakership. The problem in the negotiations are two-fold. The first is that Boehner will have to give up more of his own money if the tax rate does go up. This is, of course, something he doesn’t want to do, but he is in a situation where the White House know that they have the backing of the nation and that Boehner will get the blame if the nation goes off the fiscal cliff.
The bigger problem for Boehner is that he does not want to give up the Speakership. He is facing a really difficult situation when it comes to that. If he displeases the Right by letting taxes go up- and thus the government continue to appear competent- then he risks being taken down by Eric Cantor and the Right Wing of his own party.
The Speaker of the House is not automatically chosen from the majority party. Instead, the Speaker is the person who wins a simple majority in the House when the vote comes up for the Speakership. By tradition, the Speaker has always been elected by the majority party. Typically, a Representative votes with their party or within their party, but they do not have to.
What Boehner can do is strike a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that would net Boehner enough votes to keep the Speakership without having to rely on the Right in his Party. In doing so, he could signal a new willingness to work in the middle than to fight from the edges. He can then work over the next two years to help drag the Republicans back towards the Middle rather than the extreme Right where they are now. All Pelosi would have to do is agree not to punish any Democrat who votes for Boehner.
Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen is one of the Democrats who have noted that Boehner seems more worried about his Speakership than he is about the fiscal cliff. Van Hollen stated that “I’m getting increasingly concerned that one of the reasons the speaker is trying to, I think, string out these discussions is that he wants to wait until January 3 when the elections for speaker take place, and he’s concerned that any agreement he reaches — if it violated the so-called Hastert Rule — could undermine support for him in his caucus and make it more difficult on January 3. I hope he wouldn’t avoid the tough decisions simply to take us into January after his swearing in, but I’m becoming increasingly worried that that’s exactly what’s going on.”
Van Hollen is not the only one to think this; however, Boehner’s office continues to publically push the idea that they can get the Romney/Ryan budget through the Senate and the White House. The problem is that it is rather obvious that this is not going to happen, but Boehner is looking for some way to win, and there is no way to win in this case. The best he can hope for is a way out, and this may be the only way out.