Friday, June 20, 2014

President Obama and Speaker Boehner: Compare and Contrast

I'd like the return to Josh Marshall's article that I mentioned the other day titled: The Long Truce. In it he notes that after bruising battles since the last midterm election, both President Obama and Speaker Boehner have given up on Congress doing any legislating. So lets compare and contrast the alternatives that each have chosen to pursue (via Steve Benen).

First of all, the President is implementing the pen and phone strategy he announced in his State of the Union speech:
Obama and his team have recently moved on addressing carbon pollution, raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, creating a vast new ocean reserve, making more resources available to entrepreneurs, combating discrimination, and today, helping same-sex families.
And here is Speaker Boehner's response from his press conference yesterday:
If there were any doubts about GOP lawmakers giving up on passing bills and focusing all of their energy on manufactured “scandals,” Boehner couldn’t have made things clearer. He took a kitchen-sink approach to political analysis, blaming the president for sectarian violence in the Middle East before complaining about the discredited IRS story, the VA, an immigration problem Republicans refuse to address, and the release of an American prisoner of war. (In an entertaining twist, note that there were no references to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” during any of Boehner’s tirades. The fact that the issue has vanished says a great deal about its successes.)

Asked about actual policy work, on issues like the Highway Trust Fund and the Voting Right Act reforms, the Speaker told reporters, quite literally, “I have no idea.”
When it comes to the issues facing this country, President Obama is at work doing everything he can to address them. Speaker Boehner's response: "I have no idea."

Could it be any clearer?

Reporting it that way is not a matter of partisan spin. Those are simply the facts. And yet most of our media is missing this basic frame on what is happening. That speaks more to their negligence than anything else. If they were doing their job, the contrast could be laid out to the American public this simply. And I suspect we all know what the response would be.


  1. seems to me the public-facing asymmetry between boehner and Obama you discuss at least somewhat reflects the structural asymmetry underlying their two roles in government.

    to a large degree of course, the bigwig government roles (prez, speaker, senate maj leader, scotus chief) comprise a rock-paper-scissors game - each can counter the other in various ways, which thus limits what any one role can do in the absence of the others.

    but we're seeing that despite this in-the-large prisoner's dilemma symmetry, there are, at a smaller scale, quite a number of asymmetries in the roles. each role has a few things that they can do on their own: the senate can reject appointments without asking anybody else's opinion, for example.

    on the house side, their nominal superpower is the origination of government spending. the president has lots of foreign stuff, and executive orders, and so on. but the house's power is weaker than that of the other roles specifically because the spending power can ONLY be manifested in the service of playing nicely with the other roles.

    the senate can tell the other branches to fuck off, and still have their power over appointments unaffected. the presidency can tell the other roles to fuck off, and still have its powers unaffected. when the house tells the others to fuck off, they're left with literally nothing.

    in short: if boehner/the house refuses to share their legislative toy, THEY HAVE NO OTHER TOY TO PLAY WITH. all the other roles, do.

    one can speculate that Obama spent a couple of years trying to shield the house from this fact, for whatever reason(s). regardless, once Obama says "ok take your toy and go home", the result is that the senate goes ahead and plays with its toy: judges getting confirmed (or not per that GA deal thing). and Obama goes ahead and plays with his toys: foreign policy, executive orders ranging from gay couple benefits to job discrimination to bee protection to epa/global warming regs. and the house is left with nothing, zero, zip, nada.

    we'll see how much this chafes the house next time there's a shutdown opportunity. my guess is they'll get over it. while boehner surely hates being (self-)marginalized, he knows full well he'll hate being among the most reviled people in government history, even more.