Who Will Be the New Speaker of the House?

Ezra Klein on what Plan B’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of backbencher House conservatives means for the House Speaker election on January 3:

The failure of Plan B proved something important: Boehner doesn’t have enough Republican support to pass any bill that increases taxes — even one meant to block a larger tax increase — without a significant number of Democrats. The House has now adjourned until after Christmas, but it’s clear now what Plan C is going to have to be: Boehner is going to need to accept the simple reality that if he’s to be a successful speaker, he’s going to need to begin passing legislation with Democratic votes.

There’s an asterisk there, though: It’s not entirely clear whether Boehner will be the speaker of the House a month from today. The vote to elect the next speaker is on Jan. 3. To win, you need an absolute majority of the House, not a plurality. Even a hopeless conservative challenge that attracts only a handful of Republican votes could deny Boehner the speakership until a consensus candidate emerged. Tonight’s vote makes that challenge more likely.

A significant number of Boehner’s members clearly don’t trust his strategic instincts, they don’t feel personally bound to support him, they clearly disagree with his belief that tax rates must rise as part of a deal, and they, along with many other Republicans, must be humiliated after the shenanigans on the House floor this evening. Worse, they know that Boehner knows he’ll need Democratic support to get a budget deal done. That means “a cave,” at least from the perspective of the conservative bloc, is certain. That, too, will make a change of leadership appealing.

The most useful thing I’ve read to understand intra-Republican politics after 2010 is this 2011 post from Stan Collender. The Tea Party freshmen do not trust Boehner and Cantor. Boehner can’t deliver the votes from a large bloc of hardliners in his caucus, and the effect, again and again, is to force him to go after Democrats’ votes in the 11th hour. Usually earmarks would smooth all this over, but Boehner insisted on getting rid of the currency of the legislature and now he’s got no way to hold his members together on tough votes.


  1. Earmarks are bribes. They should go as their only use is dirty, slimy and revolting.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Earmarks are a very very small price to pay for a functioning Congress.

      • Sacrificing ethics and integrity is no small price Jon.

        There’s been alot of talk about how society has gotten desensitized to violence. More graphic video games, TV shows, the internet, etc. I believe that’s happened.

        The same thing can happen with ethics and integrity. What you see as a small issue is part of a much bigger one. We’ve also as a society gotten desensitized to slimy behavior.

        We need to reverse both trends.

  2. Although Joe Klein swears by this, I don’t see any evidence that earmarking would solve this problem, or any other problem of fundamental government functionality.

    While this party (or both) seem fairly weak, we seem to have a phenomenon of strong factional identification based on ideological principles. I don’t see how pushing a few research grants, building a useless bridge, or opening an IRS branch office in a particular town overcomes that. Even before the “ban”, earmarks were growing along with Congressional disfunction–so maybe earmarks are a sign that things aren’t going well at all.

    The solution, then, seems to be for the Speaker (or another speaker) to build a factional coalition on the issue based on some form of common ground.

    The bigger issue is a lack of governing principles–its perfectly OK to not pass a budget for years, which happens to be enshrined in law. Tax rates can be 0% or 100%, spending can be 0% of GDP or 100%. Anything can be funded at any amount, or no amount. When there are no rules, it is hard to get an agreement.

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