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Boehner's survival instinct: Why the government might shut down

September 30, 2013, at 9:02 AM

Tea-party affiliated House Republicans are not the cause of what ails the Congress right now. Don't blame them if the government shuts down, or even if the government moves toward default.

Assuming that the reasonable way forward for opponents of ObamaCare is to try and fix the program's flaws legislatively — and that is a reasonable way forward for legislation that has been passed, ratified by the Supreme Court, subject to regulation and about to be implemented — there is one person who stands in the way of the House voting on a reasonable budget.

It's House Speaker John Boehner. Don't blame his "bad leadership skills" or anything amorphous like that. Blame his preservation instinct. I don't suggest that in a mean or supercilious way. I simply mean the way Boehner looks to those who judge him mostly closely. Simply put, he is a Republican. He will live another 30 years, I hope. History to him is not history to anyone else. He has to live with the consequences of his decision.

Right now, he calculates that if he sends to the floor legislation that is not supported by a super-duper majority of his conference — that's 218 Republicans — not only will his speakership be in immediate jeopardy, but his legacy will be inextricably linked to his failure to uphold that precedent, to fight against Obama, to roll back ObamaCare, and to stand up to the Democrats. He will be shunned, literally, by everyone he knows. Like, shunned. Totally, completely thrown out of the party, cast away from everything he knows. Self-sacrifice is too high a cost for him. And I get it. It is not an easy call by any means.

If Boehner sticks with his majority-Republican-only rule, he gets bad press. The government shuts down. But he's still the speaker. He manned up. The people who he has called friends for his entire life will not shun him. They will praise him. And who knows? Obama and the Democrats might cave. (Often, the side that has the better argument caves because they've got the moral high ground and don't want to lose it.) He might be able to persuade enough Republicans, after a while, that they've made their point.

It may seem silly to place the blame for everything that is happening on what I think is inside the head of someone I have never personally met. OK, it is silly. But there is no other explanation I can come up with that tracks with what is sensible and reasonably clear. The GOP is not automatically held hostage to the Tea Partiers; Boehner alone has the power to rescue the party because it's HIS rules that grant them so much power.

If he does cut the cord, his career is over, and his identity as a Republican is...he'lll be Souterized, at the very least. History, written from the right will always regard ObamaCare as an awful idea, and will regard Obama's presidency as a beastly two-term detour into socialism. I don't know if I would have the guts to cut the cord if I were in Boehner's position.

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