Overestimating Boehner’s capacity for seriousness

OVERESTIMATING BOEHNER’S CAPACITY FOR SERIOUSNESS…. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered a largely-overlooked speech last week on the ways in which he’d like to improve the way the House operates. It didn’t break a lot of new ground, and the remarks came and went without making much of a splash.

David Broder, however, was more impressed than most, and touted Boehner’s prescription as a reasonable starting point.

What Boehner called “a cycle of gridlock” afflicts both sides of the Capitol, and has been enabled by both parties, depending on who had the majority. As he was honest enough to admit, the abuses did not start when Pelosi took the gavel, and both sides have been guilty of twisting the rules.

If the margins of control shrink in January, as I think they will, it might well be time to negotiate a truce.

I’d like to see Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leaders take Boehner up on the challenge he has raised, not try to demean it. He said, for example, that rather than stifling debate through the manipulation of rules, “we should open things up and let the battle of ideas help break down the scar tissue between the parties…. Let’s let legislators legislate again.”

It would be great if the leaders could engage each other seriously at the start of the next Congress on rules and procedures for doing the nation’s business…. His diagnosis of the problems in Congress offers a starting point for a cure.

On the surface, I’m comfortable with all of this. Reforming the way Congress does business strikes me as an eminently sensible thing to do, and some of the specifics Boehner brought up are at least worthy of discussion.

My concern is not with the message, but with the messenger. Broder characterizes Boehner as a sincere congressional leader with credibility on these issues, who deserves some benefit of the doubt. I don’t see it this way at all.

For one thing, Boehner has consistently shown a lack of seriousness when it comes to his duties. This has been evident in his refusal to compromise, his petty partisan tactics, and his willingness to play procedural games for the sake of obstructionism. Just a few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said Boehner and his leadership team “are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious.”

For another, when it comes to institutional reform, it’s hard to think of a worse spokesperson than John Boehner. He is, as we talked about last week, almost a caricature of what’s wrong with Washington insiders. Boehner first gained national notoriety in 1996, when the chain-smoking conservative congressman, shortly before a key vote, walked the House floor distributing checks from tobacco industry lobbyists.

More recently, Boehner has developed an unrivaled love of corporate lobbyists, with whom the GOP leader coordinates to try to kill jobs bills, Wall Street reform,health care reform, and energy legislation.

We’re talking about a long-time Capitol Hill veteran who literally meets in smoke-filled rooms to scheme behind closed doors with powerful interests, most of which have hired his former aides for maximum influence and impact.

David Broder sees all of this, and nevertheless insists John Boehner should be taken seriously when it comes to reforming how Congress does business. Maybe Broder’s thinking of a different John Boehner?