What is worse than going down in a stalled plane? Answer: Going down in a stalled plane with no pilot. Last night Speaker John Boehner confirmed the worst suspicions of many analysts when he was forced to delay the vote on his debt ceiling bill. When Boehner really needed the votes on a crucial piece of legislation he simply could not produce. Where Speaker Pelosi succeeded on health care reform Speaker Boehner failed on the debt ceiling. It was the first really big test of Boehner’s leadership, and by all accounts he came up lacking. Boehner has no ability to control a significant portion of his own caucus, which makes a default on the debt ceiling a very real possibility.
Democrats may see Boehner’s failure as a good thing, and to a certain extent for them it was. As Boehner grows weaker President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid presumably gain leverage to pass through their version of a debt ceiling. Boehner will likely find a way to get his bill through today, but the damage has already been done. Boehner’s credibility has been seriously damaged in the Congress and more importantly within his own party.
The reality is that the Republicans control the House of Representatives and therefore no debt ceiling bill will get through without some of their votes. If a debt ceiling package is to pass then Speaker Boehner will be playing a role in gaining the needed votes, a job he proved not very good at yesterday.
As much as liberals may despise Boehner, he is actually one of the more reasonable members of his caucus. Boehner has at least conceded the need to raise the debt ceiling, and acknowledged that a default could have enormous consequences for the economy. Many Tea Party members of the House (see Rep. Michele Bachmann) see no need to raise the debt ceiling, and believe default scenarios are just another disguised boogeyman. If the Tea Party wing of the GOP is able to control the debate, as they thus far have, then anything becomes possible.
In some ways Boehner’s job will become easier if he is able to start drawing from the Democratic caucus as well. However, the further the bill goes to the left the harder time Boehner will have getting any votes from his own caucus. In many ways Boehner has unwittingly trapped himself in a box that he is now desperately trying to get out of. The debt ceiling debate is now officially entering “crisis mode” with Wall Street investors starting to take the default risk into account by selling off shares. Leadership is needed in a crisis but at least one of the political parties seems to be running around like a decapitated chicken.
For weeks now analysts have said that eventually the rational people will take over and some deal will be made to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default. What last night demonstrated is that the rational are still at the mercy of the irrational. While the first class passengers of the Tea Party have officially removed the pilot of his duties while the passengers in coach watch the plane go down.