Pity John Boehner. By rights, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Boehner should be considered one of Washington's most powerful leaders. After the vice-president, the speaker is the next in the line of presidential succession. Testifying to his lofty status, the speaker enjoys a vast rococo office — and size, insiders know, really does matter in Washington. With the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination dysfunctionally fluid, Boehner could even be considered the GOP's titular chief. Tradition and circumstance conspire so that the media weigh his each and every word.
Yet all of this is a fraud, an illusion, a fairytale. Boehner is no sleek and stately political stallion. He's a gelding, unmanned by the 80 or so Tea Partiers who call the legislative shots and dictate the political terms in the House. When the Tea Party shouts, "Jump," Boehner must neigh, "How high?" Sad — old Eeyore of Winnie-the-Pooh fame enjoyed a more dignified existence.
With the refusal of House Republicans to extend a cut in the payroll tax that was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate with broad bipartisan support, Boehner's irrelevance is now impossible to deny.
After the Senate passed its version, Boehner said he would deliver in short order. He failed.
Even the business-friendly Wall Street Journal was appalled. "The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass," the Journal clucked.
The 2012 payroll-tax-holiday extension would put an additional $1000 in the average taxpayer's pocket at a time when the lackluster economic recovery is showing some unexpected signs of life. An estimated 160 million Americans would be positively affected.
That's a no-brainer for all but the right-wing Bolsheviks who populate the Tea Party, like radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh. The crazies would rather watch President Barack Obama fail than see the nation regain a touch more economic stability.
It is not that Senate Republicans who put their muscle behind the tax measure have purer hearts. They are just smarter.
GOP snake-oil salesmen, such as Massachusetts's junior senator Scott Brown, tacked a provision onto the bill that linked the tax reduction to the approval of a new and controversial continental pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. That one has nothing to do with the other does not matter in the enchanted forest that is Washington. But the Republicans insisted and Obama compromised, as he did when he renewed the Bush tax cuts earlier this year.
Still hoping to trip Obama up, the Senate Republicans renewed the tax breaks for only two months. But Obama knows he has a winning issue here and is confident enough to accept the restriction. That, no doubt, is one of the reasons why the president's approval ratings have ticked substantially higher, according to three well-respected national polls. The independent and moderate voters who will decide the 2012 presidential contest want action. Obama is willing to give it and House Republican are not.
There is a satisfying irony in all of this.
The more that Boehner and his insubordinate subordinates toy with Obama, the stronger the president appears to get.
Meanwhile, the Gallup Poll reports that Congress enjoys a national approval rating of only 11 percent.
On the eve of his resignation, even disgraced President Richard Nixon had more support.
Maybe America is waking up to the fact that the Tea Party and its cowardly enablers in the Republican Party are more interested in destroying Obama than in helping Americans.
Boehner is a convenient target for national anger. But he deserves a measure of sympathy. The man, after all, has no balls.