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Sympathy For The Speaker

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Sympathy For The Speaker


I have sympathy (not much, but some) for John Boehner.

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the Republican House Speaker is nearly always between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, he and the GOP leadership must stand against President Barack Obama’s health care law, because the longer it remains on the books, the more likely those who receive its benefits are going to support Democrats, not Republicans.

On the other hand, if someday the Republicans repeal the law, after having returned to the White House with congressional majorities, they will be forced to devise an alternative — an impossibility given the reactionary impulses of today’s GOP.

In the former scenario, Republicans lose.

In the latter scenario, they lose.

So Boehner must thread the needle while hoping his credibility as a GOP leader isn’t badly tarnished, even as rank-and-file Republicans discover through their experience that Obamacare isn’t actually a harbinger of North Korean-style totalitarianism.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Boehner reiterated the Republican position on health care on the May 3 broadcast of Meet the Press, saying that Obamacare wasn’t working.

“Obamacare made it harder for employers to hire people,” he said. “You can ask any employer in America, ask them whether Obamacare has made it harder for them to hire employees, and they’ll tell you yes.”

When asked why none of the Republican Party’s dire predictions about health care came true, Boehner responded: “You know why there’s more people insured? Because a lot more people are on Medicaid.” He continued, “Giving people Medicaid insurance is almost like giving them nothing, because you can’t find a doctor that will see Medicaid patients. So where do they end up? The same place they used to end up: the emergency room.”

Events later in the week suggested, however, that something wasn’t right about Boehner’s claims. On Wednesday, the largest independent study of its kind was released. It found that nearly 17 million Americans are now covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Some lost coverage (about 6 million), according to the RAND Corporation study, but many more found coverage, with a net gain of 16.9 million. The evidence also contravenes those who say Obamacare encumbers hiring. For one thing, the largest gains (nearly 10 million) were made in employer-run insurance plans. For another, some 80 percent of the working population under the age of 65 saw no change at all in their health care coverage.

That wasn’t the only reason to look askance at Boehner’s claims. Last Friday’s monthly jobs report showed the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.4 percent, the lowest it’s been since May 2008, before Obama won the presidency. Even wages, which have not typically kept pace with inflation, rose by 2.2 percent in the past year.

So something’s wrong with the picture Boehner is painting. If most employers are offering insurance, and if the job market is expanding, why is Boehner saying that the Affordable Care Act has led to less insurance coverage and more unemployment?

GOP leaders appear to know they have a credibility problem. They are shifting their stance against Obamacare from quantity to quality. According to a report in The Hill published after Boehner’s appearance on Meet the Press, the Republicans now concede that Obamacare has covered more Americans but argue that the coverage is inferior. Hence, Boehner’s comment about Medicaid: Doctors don’t take Medicaid, and having it is like having nothing.

Such a shift raises its own question of credibility. Why would a Republican Party that equates tyranny with the presence of government in the lives of individuals be worried about the government’s role in providing quality health care to individuals?

Some might judge this as hypocrisy and thus dismiss the new Republican position as entirely unworthy of scrutiny. There’s merit to that, as Washington wallows in hypocrisy. But hypocrisy can prevent us from seeing what’s really going on. In this case, I wonder if Boehner and the leadership are worried about holding their ranks, as the temptation to defect grows from within.

Over time, the Affordable Care Act will penetrate deeper into the population. The millions of Americans who will benefit from the law will have an incentive to maintain the status quo. They’ll likely support the Democratic Party as long as the Republicans demand repeal of the law. So, as of now, a vote for a Republican, from the point of someone covered by the Affordable Care Act, is a self-destructive vote. And among those millions are conservatives.

Some might argue that in saying things about Obamacare that just aren’t true, Boehner risks alienating conservatives that make up the base of the Republican Party. Why would they trust the House Speaker if he is so consistently wrong? There’s something to that, but a likelier explanation for the GOP’s continued, and shifting, stance against the health care law is that opposition, no matter how contorted, is the best way to keep the conservatives in line.

Given time, more conservatives are going to benefit from the law. And the more they do, they more they will vote their self-interests. And that’s why I have (a little) sympathy for John Boehner.

John Stoehr (@johnastoehr) is managing editor of The Washington Spectator. Follow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Video: NBC News.



  1. later666 May 15, 2015

    GOP best chance is to spin this into boasting that they passed the ACA, which they did help to do, not that they really understood that at the time. How can one party be so wrong so often?

    I am not so convinced that conservatives who benefit from the ACA will necessarily vote in their own self-interests and vote Democratic all of the sudden. They certainly haven’t in recent elections – the gun toting, god fearing, uneducated white males that make up the GOP base – have elected the most extreme right nutwings ever.

    1. Paul Anthony May 16, 2015

      When you refer to the opposition as GUN TOTING, GOD FEARING, UNEDUCATED WHITE MALES, do not be surprised when you get no compromise from them. Such elitist attitudes are the major reason there still is another Party. Some people won’t vote Democrat because they don’t agree with your assessment of anyone who dares to disagree with you.

      1. Bob Eddy May 17, 2015

        Actually we didn’t get any compromise when we treated those gun toting, God fearing uneducated white males with respect, so your point is moot. BTW;, It looks like a lot of people still vote Democratic because they disagree with the Republican party that has had nothing but obstructionism as a strategy for many years and view compromise as a sign of weakness. I don’t assess people who disagree with me with any sort of contempt unless they are completely unwilling to listen to reason and depend on the likes of Fox “News” as a source of information.

        1. Dominick Vila May 17, 2015

          Mitch McConnell actually brags about the policies of obstructionism that delayed our economic recovery and caused so much misery to millions of Americans, offering as a justification that they were designed to ensure President Obama was a one-term president…and people re-elected him!

          1. dpaano June 25, 2015

            Yeah, imagine that???

        2. Paul Anthony May 17, 2015

          Americans have become so polarized that compromise is unlikely – from either side. Neither side is ignorant, despite the name-calling from both sides. The ideologies are polar opposites. When one side wants less government involvement and the other side wants more government involvement, there is no middle ground.

          And Bob, you can’t claim to have “treated those gun toting, God fearing uneducated white males” with respect. Your choice of words belies your claim.

          1. idamag May 18, 2015

            There is a reason the country has been polarized. Get them fighting each other while you take over. If you think I am making irrational statements, read: “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

          2. Paul Anthony May 18, 2015

            It’s been true throughout history. In ancient Rome, the government held spectacular events including feeding Christians to lions to keep the people entertained while they barely had enough food to eat. That’s where we got the expression “Bread and circuses”.

      2. jmprint May 17, 2015

        But, you know they are not able to compromise, as long as President Obama is in office.

    2. dpaano June 25, 2015

      Well, actually, the basis for the ACA WAS a Republican idea…..unfortunately, they don’t realize that!!! All they care about is that President Obama was the one that got it passed….and they didn’t!

  2. Dominick Vila May 16, 2015

    The problem for the GOP is that they have convinced their base that the Affordable Care Act, as well as Social Security and MEDICARE, are evil socialist concepts that will destroy America and must be rejected at all cost. They simply cannot do an about face and embrace what their constituents loathe.
    The same goes for efforts to reduce the financial schism between the top 2% and the rest of us, trying to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to purchase lethal weapons, raise the minimum wage, accepting the fact that ALL Americans should enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, investing in infrastructure, protecting the environment, and so many other common sense issues embraced by most Americans.

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth May 16, 2015

    Lamentable as it is for the more recalcitrant and intransigent in our partisan-political sphere, those on “the right” have willingly chosen to be obstinate and rancorous.
    Boehner and his cronies suffer from “mental calcification” brought on by a “circle the wagons” dysfunction, thus rendering them incapable of offering anything in the way of an objective and sensible alternative.
    Such is one of the multifaceted dimensions of the disease known as “partisan politics”.

  4. John S. May 16, 2015

    Speaker John Boehner’s hateful attitude toward Americans having to use Medicaid to obtain medical treatment reflects an intense disdain for Americans on Medicaid and a certain schadenfreude. Moreover, Speaker Boehner’s attitude, one of contempt for poor, working-class and middle-class Americans, appears to be a litmus test for Republican politicians.

    Perhaps it is all that money from the One Percent and those new corporate personhoods, courtesy of the U.S. supreme court, that buttresses Speaker Boehner’s disdain for poor, working-class and middle-class Americans.

  5. charleo1 May 16, 2015

    “Obamacare has made it harder for employers to hire.” “You can ask any employer in America if Obamacare has made it harder to hire, and they’ll tell you yes.” I doubt that, because if it doesn’t make sense, and if it doesn’t, for many reasons, it isn’t so. But, say if it was. Is making things easier, and easier, meaning rigging the system where people work for less, and less, without reliable access to healthcare for themselves, and their families, just to make make hiring them easier? Is that what the Country needs right now? Doesn’t saying something like that require a belief that people who are easy, meaning cheap to hire, don’t in fact, deserve healthcare? That they are in fact, easier replaced, than treated? Or, a conclusion that when they do, need treatment, if the employers doesn’t play any part in providing it, it’s free. Or that millions of uninsured workers in low wage jobs doesn’t impact the consumer markets, taxes, or the debt he, and his Party keeps complaining about when they talk about such things as poverty, and public assistance. Or, if we consider the other final, totally unacceptable alternative. Simply allowing hospitals, and caregivers to refuse to provide healthcare to all those easy hired Americans, unable to pay for it. And see perhaps if they can procure a loan to pay for doctors and hospitals when they need them? With their easy to hire, employer friendly, post Obamacare jobs of the future.

    1. idamag May 18, 2015

      The game is to make all of their employees part time, not giving them enough hours to qualify for benefits.

      1. charleo1 May 18, 2015

        If they could rig a system where no one’s labor was compensated beyond subsistence, and the average person had no say at all, they’d do that. If they could export the poor to China, to reduce wages there, and the Chinese Govt. went along, they’d do that too. If States Rights trumped Federal Law, the Country would still have child labor, and slavery. The environment would be chemical laden cesspool. And they’d be claiming that created jobs, lowered taxes, and kept the Federal Govt. small, as the Founding Fathers intended. And the same ones defending those policies, would be the same ones that are defending the free for me, tax dodging, Right Wingers now.

  6. Buford2k11 May 16, 2015

    nope, no sympathy, no pity…He is a coward and corrupt…He has directly hurt our nation, deliberately and with knowledge that his decisions would do so….and he isn’t the only one….

    1. Bill May 16, 2015

      Are the American people really stupid enough to believe what the GOP is pushing?

      1. joebatch May 16, 2015

        @disqus_6hL7aQ7bmx:disqus, In a word. YES!!!!!!

  7. Eleanore Whitaker May 16, 2015

    This is now the 2nd GOP Speaker of the House who tried to demolish healthcare reform. Unfortunately, the GOP knows that to repeal the ACA, they are stuck with the paperwork of people who never had healthcare insurance, who now have it and have medical procedures in black and white with their new healthcare insurers.

    What it’s coming down to is what is happening right now in NJ. Christie is hot to cut what doctors charge for their services. Yet, not one single mention of HMO reforms are in that package. This is a disaster waiting to happen if these GOP idiots think they can just play Communist pricing games with doctors. All that will do is decrease the number of doctors in a country that is supposed to be a super power?

    The GOP Slash and Burn, Cut, Cut, Cut policies are already showing what happens when you flush money to porker red states and deny blue states their fair share of federal tax revenues…train wrecks, oil tanker explosions, cuts to education…and all to get even with Yankees who beat their butts in the Civil War.

  8. Pat Brown May 16, 2015

    Since when have Americans voted in their own self interests? If this was true the southern states would be a bastion of Democrats.

  9. Bob Eddy May 17, 2015

    The problem is that when he finds himself between a rock and a hard place he seems to think the answer is wedging himself in a little tighter. The smart Republicans knew that their only chance to kill Obamacare was to get to it before it started helping people. They couldn’t do that.and now those smart ones know that the best thing to do is to ignore it and pretend their 50 or so votes to kill it didn’t happen. Unfortunately there are still a lot people in the party that haven’t figured it out yet. There isn’t much of a chance the Republican party will survive as more and more people move away from it’s extremism.

    1. Insinnergy May 17, 2015

      I see it as the new form of politician, a la the Tea Party group. They have a reality problem. It’s not really fair to blame them because they were voted in due to having that reality problem. Basically the wackiest conformers to the general delusion go to be in power.

      This looked great for the GOP at the start… but the problem with really wacky people is you can’t reason with them. So telling them:
      – What is and isn’t politically possible. i.e. Negotiation.
      – What is and isn’t good for the image of the party as a whole.
      – What objective reality is.
      Just doesn’t really work.

      This is a group of people full of glorious purpose, on various crusades… because it’s a crusade they expect to have their way. Completely. No compromises. Because it’s the “right” way, the only way. And they will shut down the government, and toss their toys, and gridlock, and forecast apocalypse, and underhandedly attach it to other unrelated critical bills…. until they get it.

      They don’t see the same things other people see, they do not have the same motivations as even their GOP compatriots. The fact that Obamacare is working, and killing it will kill their party is irrelevant. They “know” that Obamacare is the devil… and large government leads straight to hell. And they are FAITH-based politicians… in other words actual evidence is irrelevant. This is incredibly dangerous. Especially internationally. When delusion meet the world, it’s not the world that shatters.

      Perhaps the sadder thing is they are an accurate representation of their electorate. Mull on that one.

      Take out your trash, America.
      Delusional people, who have no interest in compromise do not deserve a political post.

      1. idamag May 18, 2015

        Unfortunately, they are anti government. Yes, the government needs fixing, but it is our government and we need to work to fix it. The way to destroy democracy, it to turn the people against their government, have them fighting among themselves and bring in your own fascist party to take over. It worked once in the past.Oh, and of course, they have to build a common enemy or enemies.

  10. bcarreiro May 17, 2015

    Affordable Care Act needs tweeking and We should repeal the ind. mandate but when you Mr Boehner and your fellow republicans come up with the plan to just repeal. wheres the recourse if you dont know, See brains aren’t bought but to sit on seat to ridicule for personal gain never will come solutions to anything, not even to that disrespectful attitude u have portrayed to a president who has tried as hard as JFK. You need sympathy thats how you were voted in. sincerely yours.

    1. idamag May 18, 2015

      Yes, it does need work. You can’t fix something that does not exist. It was the first act, of its kind, and a great deal of compromising had to take place for it to pass at all. So it is not perfect. About the individual mandate: Before ACA, and in states that refuse to expand Medicaid, For every $2500 dollars you paid for medical care, $800 of that went to pay for those who didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t carry insurance.So, either way, we pay.

  11. paulyz May 17, 2015

    Just heard today from the Associated Press (Carla Johnson), that the ACA Health Tax Burden, could cost the States $13 Billion. This will be passed along to the State taxpayers. State Governments are losing 54 cents for every dollar of insurance tax. Taxpayers end up as the biggest losers, without any added benefit to their State’s low-income Medicaid patients. Yes, more bad news regarding Obamacare, Socialist programs that hurt many people.

  12. dpaano June 25, 2015

    But, he’ll keep spending our hard-earned taxpayer dollars again and again trying to vote it down!!! Someone needs to take the checkbook away from him!


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