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If John Boehner steps down, could Congress actually get something done?
Democrats have reasons to hope that the speaker retires in 2014
 
It's been a rough few years for the speaker.
It's been a rough few years for the speaker.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Is House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stepping down in 2014?

Huffington Post reporter Jon Ward certainly thinks so. He talked to current and former Boehner aides who all say they think he will retire after the next midterm elections, despite the fact that he said otherwise two months ago.

"It's probably not up to him," an unnamed GOP operative tells the Huffington Post. "The natural assumption is that he leaves. It's the overwhelming, working assumption as people are making strategy going into 2015 and 2016."

Boehner hasn't exactly had the easiest time of it, suffering one humiliating setback after the next at the hands of his own caucus. As New York's Jonathan Chait writes, a "small minority of the most extreme Republicans in the House have managed to keep Boehner on a leash by threatening to depose him as speaker if he displeases them."

That tension came to a head when anti-tax conservatives rejected Boehner's "Plan B" budget proposal during the fiscal cliff debate in late 2012, which would have raised taxes only on millionaires. Then, in January, he nearly lost his bid for a second term as speaker when 12 Republicans abstained from voting or voted for someone else. And in June, his conservative colleagues threw him under the bus again, voting against a five-year farm bill that he had publicly backed himself.

Unyielding pressure from Tea Party Republicans has left Boehner presiding over a Congress that has passed fewer bills than any other since such information began being tracked in 1947. Indeed, the few big bills that have passed — such as aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy — came when Boehner broke the so-called Hastert rule, an informal rule that forbids a vote on a bill unless it has the support of "the majority of the majority" in the House.

"Until now, Boehner's dream of establishing a legacy for himself, either by striking a 'grand bargain' to reduce the deficit or…passing comprehensive immigration reform, has been thwarted by the more mundane desire simply to hold on to his job," writes Joshua Green at Bloomberg Businessweek. If he is retiring, Green speculates "it's possible that a whole lot more could happen."

Chait paints a dream scenario for Democrats if Boehner feels no pressure to appease conservative Republicans:

He can lift the debt ceiling and keep the government running. He could sign immigration reform, even cut a deal on the budget. There's probably a majority in the House for all these things — it's just a majority consisting mainly of Democrats along with a handful of Republicans. Boehner could use that majority and then ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist, enjoy a huge raise, and play a lot more golf. [New York]

Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, however, doesn't think Boehner will suddenly compromise on the budget, since "the two sides really, honestly, seriously disagree about what constitutes a good deal, and they're still bitter over the failures of past deals."

Instead, he argues, Boehner might establish his legacy by lifting the Hastert rule, and making progress on an overhaul of the country's immigration system passed by the Senate earlier this year:

While Boehner really does think the White House deals on the budget in bad faith and wants too much in taxes, he doesn't personally find the Senate's immigration compromise to be noxious policy. And the votes really are there for it, or something like it, if Boehner chose to lift the Hastert rule.

While a deal that raised taxes would be seen as a genuine betrayal, much of Republican Washington…would applaud a deal on immigration, seeing it as nothing less than a key step towards saving the future of their party. [Washington Post]

However, The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump isn't so sure that Boehner will have a change of heart on that issue either.

"Despite his rhetoric on the stump, John Boehner is a career politician," he writes. "And career politicians don't suddenly start going sideways."

 
Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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