It is now the morning of October 15, 2013, and America is in deep shit. The federal government has been shut down for over two weeks and could easily hit its debt ceiling in less than 48 hours. The former is really bad; the latter could be catastrophic.
There is one man who could fix both of these problems in under ten seconds. His name is John Boehner, he is the Speaker of the House, and he could fix them by reaching for his phone and texting one of his staffers to put a bill on the House floor that would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling with no partisan strings attached. All the Democrats in the House and about 175 Republicans would vote for it, it would pass, the President would sign it and this whole thing would be over like a bad dream.
Why has he not done this? That is not entirely clear, but the leading theory is that he is being held hostage by a group of about 30 Republicans with Tea Party ties and the maturity level of surly teenagers who refuse to pass a budget or raise the debt ceiling without exacting some sort of partisan concession. Initially they wanted to defund Obamacare; now they don’t even know what the hell they want (although, to paraphrase the Sex Pistols, they know how to get it.) If Boehner fails to do their bidding, these 30 could unseat him as speaker, which is evidently why he is going along with them. But if he does their bidding, America is pretty well fucked.
So here’s what has to happen RIGHT NOW.
First, Boehner gets out his phone and texts the president.
“Hey Barry,” he says, “I’m sorry things have gotten so out of hand. I know it’s late but can we talk? I want to make this right and I’m going to need your help.”
The president responds. “Hey John,” he says, “Sure thing. Come on over.”
A few minutes later John Boehner is in the White House basement man-cave. The president comes over with two beers and some chips and salsa. They ask about each other’s daughters and bitch about their aching joints for a spell and then they get down to business.
“So,” says the president, “what’s on your mind?”
“Okay,” says Boehner, “so clearly, I’m in a pretty tight spot. I don’t like this shutdown anymore than you do, and no way do I want a default, but this Tea Party faction has up against the ropes and if I bring a clean budget and debt ceiling bill to the House they’re gonna start throwing punches.”
“Yes,” says the president, “I know. Go on.”
“I’m ready to end this,” says Boehner, “I’ve gone along with them far too long. But I’m going to need something from you.”
“Okay,” says the president, “Go on.”
And here’s what Boehner says:
Boehner says he will put the bill on the house floor and end the fiscal crisis, and in exchange, the president will ensure that Boehner does not lose his speakership if the Tea Party faction tries to unseat him – by getting Democrats to vote to keep him in, enough to offset however many House Republicans join the revolt.
The president sucks air through his teeth and looks skeptical.
“I know,” says Boehner, “but hear me out. You and I may not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we can both agree that everything is better when we set aside our differences and work together, right?”
The president nods.
“Barry,” says Boehner, “we are both reasonable people. We didn’t come to Washington to get involved in party politics. We came here to bridge party lines and get things done, right?”
The president nods.
“The American people are tired of partisan politics,” says Boehner, “More than any liberal or conservative victory, they want unity.”
The president nods.
“So,” says Boehner, “what better for your party to demonstrate its commitment to that unity than by rallying in support of a Republican Speaker who has a good working relationship with their president?”
The president looks annoyed. “John,” he says, “look, I see what you’re saying. But you brought this country to the brink of the fiscal cliff twice, and now you’re asking me to pull favors in my own party to protect your speakership? You got yourself into this; why should I bail you out?”
Here Boehner leans in and lowers his voice. “Because,” he says, “if you bail me out, I will solve your little Tea Party problem. If those 30 turn on me, and you keep me in, I will have no reason not to retaliate, will I?”
A smile breaks over the president’s face. “Okay,” he says, “I’ll see what I can do. But first, the bill.”
The next day, Boehner surprises everyone by bringing a clean CR bill to the floor. It passes; the president signs it; crisis is averted. He holds a press conference and says that, after much consideration, and in the interest of the American people who are being affected by the shutdown, he and his party have decided to rise above party politics and cooperate with the president to end the crisis. He makes no mention of the Tea Party Republicans who surely will vote against it. Like them, he preserves the myth that the Republican Party is unified.
Over the next few days, Boehner begins to furiously rebrand himself as the Great Compromiser, the hero who saved the day when the nation was on the brink of fiscal crisis. When the Tea Party 30 turn on him, he fights back with the handful of Democrats that the President corralled for him, and uses that as further evidence of his ability to bridge party politics and bring unity to Washington.
Then, as payback for the favors that the President pulled, he proceeds to completely eviscerate the Tea Party faction. He strips them of all their chairmanships, and throws a bunch of money behind candidates to oust them in the 2014 primaries. Most of them get voted out; the Tea Party menace is defeated; Congress can get back to work.
Ted Cruz makes some sort of a stink and no one cares.
Finally, Boehner uses the story about how he solved the fiscal crisis to make a bid for the presidency in 2016. Maybe he gets elected – I wouldn’t vote for him but we could do worse.
Or, alternatively, he could NOT do this, and go down in history as the Speaker who presided over the failure of America. The choice is his – I hope he chooses wisely.