In 2008, America collectively shuddered at the thought of Sarah Palin being within a few heartbeats of the nuclear button. In 2012, America has a group of possibly even more unstable extremists in the House of Representatives with their fingers on the fate of our economy.
The House Republicans proved on their first day of the session that the 113th Congress could easily go down in history as the most dangerous one in recent history.
Yes, the 113th could be even worse than the absolutely invidious, completely irredeemable, incredibly excruciating 112th Congress, which just ended on January 1st.
The last House of Representatives’ chief accomplishments were lowering our nation’s credit rating to get a debt deal that they refused to stick to and naming post offices. They wasted millions of taxpayer dollars pretending to repeal Obamacare 33 times and couldn’t pass the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act once. The last Congress didn’t pass aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy but it voted for 55 different ways of undermining women’s health care.
Then after two years of ugly partisan kowtowing to the darkest corners of the right wing, Speaker Boehner revealed on the last day of the session what most observers already knew: The only thing preventing compromise and productivity was his fear of losing his job.
With a vulnerable recovery still trying to take hold and erase the job losses that begin in 2008, Speaker Boehner almost let the Senate’s compromise bill to avert a blow to the economy die because a few dozen of his members didn’t think the bipartisan bill cut enough from poor Americans receiving food stamps, energy assistance and job training.
He eventually let the bill come to the floor, where it passed easily, though a vast majority of Republicans rejected it.
And within days, verily Boehner found out that fears of losing his job were justified.
On January 3, the House convened to elect its Speaker. Boehner needed to win 217 votes out of a Republican majority of 234. Only 17 Republicans needed to vote for someone else to send the vote to a second round, rendering the Speakership so weak that many thought Boehner would then step down – at least that’s what anti-Boehner conservatives who claimed to have 20 votes against him claimed.
The roll call vote came, and Boehner ended up with 220 votes. If just four more Republicans had joined the coup, his brief reign could have been over. Convicted of the crime of compromising — once.
And where did the nearly successful rebellion against Speaker Boehner begin? As a Twitter hashtag: #FireBoehner
Ron Meyer Jr. and Celia Bigelow — Republican activists both in their the early twenties who work at the right-wing PAC American Majority Action — started tweeting #FireBoehner in late 2012. Their boss loved it and encouraged them to start making appearances in conservative media.
Outgoing member Jeff Landry (R-LA), who blamed the Speaker for being redistricted out of office, saw Meyer on TV and hooked the activist up with the world of rebel House Republicans. A handful joined the movement and recruited other members who had butted heads with the leadership, on the House floor until minutes before the vote, coming close but ultimately failing as Michele Bachmann (R-MN) cast the winning vote for Boehner.
But with a hashtag and a gripe, the third most powerful public official in America was almost toppled.
And that should scare the living innards out of you.
The Speaker’s tepid grasp on his caucus, which narrowly prevented a default on our debt only after the stock market lost six months of gains in a week, is now much weaker, just as we’re again approaching the debt limit.
The combination of dark money and redistricting has effectively insulated House Republicans from reality. They lost the popular vote by 1 percent, more than 1,500,000 votes, and still have a solid majority. Experts estimate they would have to lose the popular vote by 7 percent-type numbers to end up in the minority.
Only 15 Republicans were elected in districts that President Obama won – meaning for 219 House Republicans, their only fear in life is Glenn Beck, the Club for Growth or some random activist on Twitter deciding they need a primary challenge.
Republicans from the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal to Newt Gingrich have advised Republicans not to take the debt limit hostage again. Threatening to default on our debt because of your commitment to fiscal responsibility is like burning down your house so it won’t get foreclosed in 15 years. President Obama said he won’t even negotiate about the debt limit, hinting he may take some extraordinary measure like invoking the 14th Amendment or minting a trillion-dollar coin.
You know that the Republicans leadership in the House voted to raise the debt limit 19 times as George W. Bush took America from a burgeoning surplus to $4 trillion in new debt.
Forget the hypocrisy. The result of an actual default would likely be trillions in American wealth and millions of jobs lost – basically a repeat of the fall of 2008, when we still haven’t recovered from the first Great Recession.
But we know that there are enough votes in the House to raise the debt limit today to pay the bills we’ve already racked up. If that vote doesn’t happen, it will be for exactly one reason: Speaker Boehner is more afraid of being fired by delusional anarchists masquerading as conservatives than he is of setting our economy on fire.