The incredible shrinking Speaker, cont’d

As recently as Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was on the same page as President Obama, at least far as debt-reduction targets go. Both wanted a plan with $4 trillion in savings; both eyed a “grand bargain” that would include new revenue; and both believed they could convince enough members of their respective parties to get on board once the deal was done.

By at least one account, the Speaker was “enthusiastically” endorsing the notion of a grand bargain and told his Republican colleagues that this is why he wanted to be Speaker in the first place.

Boehner, humiliated, reversed course on Saturday night, after learning that his own caucus refused to follow his lead. How bad is it? This bad.

“It’s crazy to think the speaker was considering a trillion [dollars] in tax increases. After all, we’re the anti-tax party,” said one veteran Republican lawmaker close to leadership. “Cantor brought him, the economy and our party back from the abyss. Cantor is strengthened, clearly. And it’s another example of the speaker almost slipping beyond the will of the GOP conference.”

Note, that’s not a quote from a Democrat trying to drive a wedge between the House Speaker and his caucus; that’s a quote from a long-time Republican member of Congress who’s “close” to the GOP leadership.

By another account, when the 10 participants in the talks reconvened yesterday at the White House, Boehner “basically just sat there,” and let House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) do all the talking.

That’s probably as it should be. It’s Cantor, after all, who’s less willing to strike deals and more ideologically in line with the right-wing House caucus.

It almost certainly didn’t help that President Obama praised Boehner for his good-faith efforts at a press conference this morning — praise that will be perceived as weakness and appeasement by House Republicans.

The next question, though, is what the consequences will be for the Speaker’s weakness. It’s hard to imagine the GOP forcing him out, but it’s equally hard to imagine the party putting up with his recent willingness to find common ground and compromise.

Either way, Boehner’s influence appears to be evaporating quickly. Under the circumstances, I’m not even sure why he should be negotiating on behalf of his caucus.

As we talked about over the weekend, the Speaker of the House is arguably one of the most powerful offices in the government, at least in theory. It’s supposed to be within Boehner’s power to simply tell his caucus what they have a responsibility to do, and demand their fealty.

But a leader with no followers is, by definition, weak. Boehner may be the Speaker, but as he’s quickly realizing, he’s taking the orders, not giving them.

In the asylum known as the House of Representatives, is there any doubt as to the inmates’ power?