When politics find principles revolting


On Monday, John Feehery wrote an op-ed in The Hill blistering the dozen Republicans who voted against John Boehner’s re-election as Speaker. Among other things, Feehery accused these 12 Members of not being Republicans.

Attitudes like this make the hypocrisy of GOP “principles” laughable. It was the GOP after all, which set the stage for President Obama’s spending spree by supporting Bush’s deficits, violating the alleged Republican principles of lower taxes and balanced budgets. Over these past two years, the GOP seems to stand for slightly less than anything Obama wants.

Let’s look at some of Feehery’s arguments:

1.     The vote against Boehner wasn’t a vote against the Speaker’s actual performance. By all accounts, Boehner has done yeoman’s work leading the House under what can only be called difficult circumstances.

While it is true that the Speaker has been under difficult circumstances during the major budget debates of the past two years, much of this is his own making. His inability to effectively negotiate and his unwillingness to stand on fiscally conservative principles have eroded support among those loyal to party platform.

 2.     The vote against Boehner was really a vote against the Republican Party. It was a protest against Republican policies and against the Republican establishment.

 This is technically correct – but only because the GOP establishment no longer stands for the alleged principles of the Republican Party. Standing with Speaker Boehner is to stand with a Speaker who prefers compromise for its own sake, not negotiating for the best policies for the country.

3.     Boehner should invite the 12 who voted against him to leave the GOP. He should bar them from attending any Republican Conference meetings. He should strip them of all committee assignments. He should instruct the NRCC to view those seats to be held in the hands of non-Republicans, and find candidates to run for them. He should instruct Republican allies on the outside — business groups, corporate PACS, trade associations, the Chamber of Commerce — to cease to give these members any campaign contributions. The Speaker should instruct the Appropriations Committee to deny all spending requests made by any of these 12 members. These members shouldn’t be allowed to travel on any congressional delegation trips.

It is a long-standing tradition of House Speakers to enforce voting for the Speaker’s preferred bills through committee assignments, fundraising, etc. Under the right circumstances, some of this is simply part of balancing influence with principles.

Is it more important to support the perfect bill (say, a balanced budget in one year) or a merely good one (say a balanced budget in five years), especially if voting for the merely good one brings one more influence for future debates and votes?

Where Feehery errs is acting as though holding to the same principles Speaker Boehner and other establishment Republicans preach – but too rarely follow – is a negative. In a time when both parties clearly view themselves as positives because of their respective power in Washington, as opposed to the good they provide the country, holding to the principles espoused by a party should be cheered.

It would be one thing if Speaker Boehner’s 12 opponents were opposing a Speaker whose leadership had garnered spending cuts, kept taxes low, or otherwise upheld the party platform. However, Speaker Boehner’s “victories” enable massive overspending with comical reductions.

4.     The fact of the matter is that the 12 who voted against Boehner are not likely to vote for anything that most Republicans want to get done. They probably won’t vote for any rules to govern debate. They can’t be counted on to vote for any appropriations bills. They won’t vote to extend the debt ceiling. They won’t take any tough votes ever. Instead, they will pontificate about how fiscally responsible they are, just as they make it easier for House Democrats to play a bigger role in all legislative achievements.

This point would be a good one, if these Republicans were actually opposing all legislation. Consider that Reps. Amash (R-MI) and Huelskamp (R-KS) voted for the Republican Study Committee’s budget and Rep. Louie Ghomert (R-TX) voted to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.. Once again, Feehery is showing the establishment’s tendency to view what party leadership supports as automatically good for America, rather than examine each piece of legislation on its own merits.

5.     The 12 who voted against Boehner can start their own party. They can call themselves the Know-Nothings or the Tea Party or the Radical Republicans or whatever they want. What they can’t call themselves is Republican, because if Boehner handles this right, they won’t be part of the Republican Conference anymore.

And if John Boehner’s Republican Conference won’t support him as he kicks the rebels out of the party, then he should give up his Speakership and run for minority leader. Because if the Republican Conference won’t back John Boehner on this effort to make the party stronger, it won’t be a majority party for long.

Again, Feehery is viewing “Republican Party in power” as a good for America. Second, he seems to be forgetting his party just lost seats in the Senate and failed to take the Presidency largely because Republicans couldn’t articulate fiscally conservative policies. How can he claim Speaker Boehner’s willingness to compromise solely for its own sake strengthens the party in light of last November’s elections?

6.     I didn’t like it when Boehner made martyrs out of the four troublemakers who got bounced from their committee assignments in November. But being a troublemaker is one thing. Mounting an insurrection is something else.

In short, Feehery is trying to separate the martyrs from the insurrection. However, it is doubtful the revolt would have happened if Speaker Boehner hadn’t made martyrs out of the four Members of Congress to whom Feehery is referencing.

This article is not meant to launch a full defense of the 12 Republicans who opposed Speaker Boehner. Their tactics didn’t work, and this caused some embarrassment in the media when several supporters abandoned the effort over fear of repercussions. Additionally, a number of Members who publicly opposed Plan B and other bills whipped by the House GOP leadership also privately and publicly admitted the Speaker’s principles on the fiscal cliff weren’t as bad as some claimed, including Rep. Amash. This weakens their argument of legislative superiority, since opposition should be backed by better ideas.

In the end, however, Feehery’s op-ed is full of the same ad hominem attacks fiscal conservatives have seen since the start of the Tea Party. It’s unfortunate that Feehery’s blind loyalty to the Republican Party establishment has overcome whatever principles and objective policy analysis he may possess.