If Boehner gets the boot ...
On Thursday, the 113th House will fulfill its express constitutional duty to choose its speaker. The result may well be the re-election of Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. But events of the past week have cast some doubt on that.
The vote will be taken by the new House, which has 233 Republicans, 200 Democrats and two vacancies. If 17 Republicans vote for someone other than Boehner, and he falls short of an absolute majority of all the votes cast, the House will be thrown into turmoil — no elected speaker along with the prospect of additional ballots and a whole lot of intrigue before the new speaker is chosen and sworn in.
Every sentient American knows why Boehner had a restless holiday season: His make-or-break effort to get his colleagues to vote for his Plan B — to give him leverage in his “fiscal cliff” negotiations with President Obama — fell apart, as Republicans balked at supporting their leader. With no Plan B, no alternative Plan C and a conservative base angry and frustrated, it is perhaps not surprising that a group of conservatives has reportedly hatched a plan to oust the speaker.
Boehner's dilemma is worsened by the fact that 50 or more House Republicans come from districts that are homogeneous echo chambers, made that way through redistricting and the “Big Sort” that has like-minded people living in close proximity to one another.
With the Club for Growth and others putting million-dollar bounties on the heads of apostates who vote for any taxes, and with conservative talk radio having its effect, these lawmakers are immune from broader public pressure. For Boehner, fulfilling his constitutional responsibility as House speaker means getting the House to work its will, even if his party does not go along. But doing so imperils his speakership.
What if Boehner doesn't survive? Go to Article I, Section 2: The Constitution does not say that the speaker of the House has to be a member of the House. In fact, the House can choose anybody that a majority wants to fill the post. Every speaker has been a representative from the majority party. But these days, the old pattern clearly is not working.
The best way out of this mess would be to find someone from outside the House to transcend the differences and alter the dysfunctional dynamic we are all enduring. Ideally, that individual would transcend politics and party.
One option would be Jon Huntsman. By any reasonable standard, he is a conservative Republican: As governor of Utah, he supported smaller government, lower taxes and balanced budgets, and he opted consistently for market-based solutions.
Another option would be Mitch Daniels, longtime governor of Indiana and a favorite on the right. Daniels has shown a remarkable ability to work with Democrats and Republicans, and he is a genuine fiscal conservative — meaning he does not worship at the shrine of tax cuts if they deepen deficits.
It may be time for a different kind of out-of-the-box action. Huntsman for speaker!
Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.