John Boehner has tried really hard to get his latest debt-ceiling proposal passed. He played The Town. He made grand statements like “When the House takes action today, the United States Senate will have no more excuses for inaction.” He courted the Tea Party and met with on-the-fence senators. He undermined Harry Reid’s leadership skills. And yet it’s his own leadership skills that are unflatteringly in the spotlight this morning, as Boehner tries for one last Hail Mary on his debt-ceiling bill, ominously delayed from a House vote last night. He’ll talk to Republicans this morning at 10 a.m. in a closed door session (maybe to play scenes from Rocky? Rudy?). The stakes are high for him personally, not just for the debt deal.
Boehner is known for his schmoozy, boozy, behind-the-scenes brokering, but his touch might have been too soft this time. For instance, Representative Jason Chaffetz told the press he was “very pleasantly surprised that they’re not twisting and ripping arms off.” Chaffetz might be pleased with the customer service, but he’s not buying what Boehner’s selling: His is a key vote that Boehner tried very hard and failed to get. Perhaps Boehner simply doesn’t know how to deal with Tea Partiers — more than half of the Republicans who opposed his bill belong to the coalition, and freshman Tea Partiers seem particularly recalcitrant. Or maybe it’s regional: He couldn’t get the South Carolina delegation to budge.
Of course, getting his own troops in line is only one part of the leadership test that Boehner’s in danger of failing badly. Achieving meaningful compromise has also eluded him, and in that, he’s joined by President Obama and Harry Reid (who have similarly flailed in getting Democrats to present a unified front). Obama was criticized by liberals for giving up too much to Boehner, giving him an inch that inspired the Speaker to try for a mile and delay a deal still further. The president has been mostly on the sidelines this week, waiting for a deal to pass. But since it looks as if Boehner’s bill won’t have the votes to pass — and even though Democrats were caught off guard by the failure — Obama, Reid, and Nancy Pelosi will also get yet another chance at trying to fix the crisis. But no matter whose bill ends up passing (and here’s hoping one does), no one in the leadership on either side is going to be counting this among their finest moments.