Jan 2, 2013 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. …
As reports of the meeting leaked out, observers began to wonder if a Cantor coup against Boehner was brewing.
Excerpted from The Guardian: ‘s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.
Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debated funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.
House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.
In fact, the House Republican leadership team split right down the middle on the legislation. House majority whip Kevin McCarthy voted against; House Republican conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers sided with Boehner and voted in favor.
When Pelosi and Hoyer disagreed on the surge, it was the speaker who sided with the majority of her caucus.
House conservatives have increasingly chafed under Boehner’s leadership. Four independent-minded fiscal conservatives – Justin Amash of Michigan, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Walter Jones of North Carolina, and David Schweikert of Arizona – were purged from their preferred committee assignments for their unpredictable voting behavior. Secret “scorecards” were allegedly used in making the decision, though this has been denied publicly. Conservatives helped defeat Boehner’s “Plan B” compromise on the fiscal cliff before Christmas.
The problem is that House Republicans are stifled by a Democratic Senate and president. Many of them hail from safe, conservative districts. A critical mass were elected in 2010 with high hopes for cutting government spending. Boehner’s efforts to work within these constraints have not endeared him to some restless Republicans.
Enter Eric Cantor. In closed-door meetings of the House Republican conference, he expressed his opposition to the Senate bill before Boehner had taken a stand. He expressed the sense of most Republicans that it raised taxes without getting any meaningful spending cuts in return, that it added to the deficit, and that it created the precedent that any cuts must be paired with tax hikes.
President Obama’s team released a statement that morning suggesting they agreed with that last point, practically singing, “Ding-dong, Grover Norquist’s dead.”
Cantor had tried to establish himself as the right flank of the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011, famously irritating the president. But many conservatives regarded this as ambition talking more than principle. When the majority leader said out loud what most Republicans were thinking about the fiscal cliff bill, however, there was admiration.
As reports of the meeting leaked out, observers began to wonder if a Cantor coup against Boehner was brewing. Cantor’s spokesman, Doug Heye, took to Twitter to quell the rumors:
Majority Leader Cantor stands with @speakerboehner. Speculation otherwise is silly, non-productive and untrue.
— Doug Heye (@DougHeye) January 1, 2013
Six hours later, Boehner and Cantor took opposite positions in the roll call vote.
Could Cantor make a move? The conditions are there, but an exhausted Republican caucus may ultimately flinch from a change at such an uncertain time. And if Cantor doesn’t run, it’s hard to see anyone else mustering the votes to oust Boehner.
Boehner also has a strong case to make. When Obama was re-elected, Republicans lost much of their leverage. That immediately set up a conflict between the spending cuts they hoped they were getting when they negotiated the debt ceiling deal in August and the Bush tax cuts that were always set to expire at the end of the year.
Those spending cuts didn’t really materialize – at least, not to the extent Republicans had hoped – and the top income tax rate is going up. (So are payroll taxes, though there didn’t seem to be a strong constituency in either party for resisting that regressive tax hike.) But when the dust settles, House Republicans avoided being held responsible for an across-the-board tax increase, gave up substantially less revenue than Obama demanded, and most of them didn’t even end up having to vote for the increase on the top earners.
Nearly all rising stars and strong conservatives in the House – with the exception of Paul Ryan, who supported his ally Boehner by voting for the deal – were spared.
It hasn’t been pretty and it hasn’t yielded significant conservative reforms, but Boehner has averted government shutdowns, a default, and the fiscal cliff under seemingly impossible odds. House Republicans live to fight another day, possibly as soon as the next debt ceiling extension. All that has to count for something.
But Cantor doesn’t have to vie for the top job now. More than four years passed between when Gingrich led the revolt against the 1990 tax increase and when he took over the leadership from Michel, who dutifully supported his president in raising taxes.
For now, the leadership has covered all its bases, with key members able to tell rank-and-file Republicans they took both positions on the deal. But even with the gavel, Boehner is in for a wild ride.