As the sequester fight intensifies, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been reduced to an increasingly hysterical message:
"We have moved a bill in the House twice," Boehner said. "We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something."
I think it's probably fair to say that Boehner, his other strengths notwithstanding, is not always as sharp when it comes to legislative details and public policy. The Speaker is relatively adept at reading talking points others write for him, and he can schmooze with the best of them, but he's often confused about the substantive angles to ongoing debates.
So, as Boehner starts to lose his cool in public, let's pause and help him understand the one detail the Speaker seems to have forgotten: in this Congress, House Republicans have done no work on the sequester. Literally, none. Boehner and his caucus haven't voted on an alternative; they haven't unveiled a substitute plan; they haven't shown up for bipartisan negotiations. Since this Congress has gotten underway, Speaker and his team have known this threat is coming, and they've done absolutely nothing about it except whine in public.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have put together a compromise plan that requires concessions from both sides
So when Boehner demands that senators get "off their ass," the Speaker isn't just being crude, and he isn't just being dishonest, he's actually been reduced to irony.
Indeed, the unstated subtext of Boehner's complaints this morning was, in the larger context, hard to miss. The Speaker seemed to be saying, "I demand that senators get off their ass in order to help save my ass."
Yes, Boehner is pleading with the Senate to help resolve this because he's simply too weak a Speaker to play a constructive leadership role on his own.
Boehner, who's unambiguously bad at his job, is offering the political world a stark reminder about just how ineffective he is when it comes to governing.
If the let-the-cuts-happen approach on the sequester seems risky -- especially with President Barack Obama blaming Republicans for everything from kids not getting vaccines to long lines at the airport -- the alternative for Boehner is worse.
Jump-start negotiations with Obama, and he would be slammed for engaging in out-of-sight, secret talks with a president his party doesn't trust. Raise taxes, and Boehner's courting trouble in his conference and endangering his speakership. Both are simply nonstarters.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) added that Boehner would lose his speakership if he struck a bipartisan compromise.
Let's not brush past the significance of this: with dangerous sequestration cuts looming, a bipartisan compromise is now impossible because the Speaker of the House is impotent. He can't turn off the threat he helped create because his followers won't let him. He can't delay the threat, either, because his followers won't tolerate it. And he can't compromise because those darned followers have deemed that unacceptable, too.
And so, left with nothing, Boehner cries out, pleading for the Senate to do what he cannot: govern.