Inquirer Editorial: Boehner's back in the saddle

Posted: December 14, 2012

This is John Boehner's moment.

The House speaker was basically humiliated last year when tea-party-steeped Republicans rejected his leadership in negotiations to broker a deficit-reduction compromise with President Obama.

But, as they say, tomorrow is another day - and it looks like that day has come for Boehner.

A year ago, he was embarrassed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), who walked out of budget meetings with Vice President Biden to stop talk of higher taxes. Cantor's dramatics occurred even as Boehner was saying he could agree to revenue measures that involved credits and deductions, instead of rates.

Political observers said Boehner was unable to control the conservative rebels in the Republican caucus who had helped him gain his power. Some were even counting the days before Cantor replaced the Ohio representative as speaker. But then came the presidential election.

The convincing defeat of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has tea-party Republicans reeling, at least for now. Cantor and his House bookend, Romney running mate Paul Ryan, are no longer drawing a line in the sand in opposition to collecting more revenue to reduce the deficit.

Other Republicans who had thumbed their noses at Boehner for negotiating taxes with the Obama administration have been chastised. Boehner removed Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona, Justin Amash of Michigan, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina from committee assignments.

That Boehner finally appears to be kicking butt in his caucus is one reason for optimism that the nation may avoid the fiscal cliff of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts and tax hikes that will occur in January unless Congress and the president agree on a deficit reduction strategy.

The speaker hasn't won the day. A movement to replace Boehner has been trying to gain traction. One right-wing political group, American Majority Action, has endorsed Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) to be speaker, but Price says he won't run against Boehner. Apparently, neither will Cantor, though he still has strong support among House conservatives.

More important than the intraparty politicking are Boehner's negotiations with Obama. The Wall Street Journal reported both sides seem willing to remove a portion of the tax exemption for municipal-bond interest paid to wealthier households. But Mayor Nutter, who heads the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said driving up interest costs would hurt cities trying to fund schools and libraries.

The bottom line, of course, is that there is no magic pill that can be swallowed to reduce the federal deficit without any pain. The past presidential election was, in a sense, a referendum on this issue, and the candidate who insisted that both spending cuts and revenue measures must be in the deficit cure won that race.

That result seems to have resuscitated Boehner, who a year ago appeared shell-shocked after Cantor and his team put him on a leash. Boehner doesn't have to cave in to Obama on a deficit deal. But it's good to see he is back in position to make commitments he has the ability to keep.

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