Diary

Speaker Boehner Throws Down the Gauntlet

If there were any doubts that House Leadership was prepared to fight to enact their spending cuts in negotiations with the Senate and the White House over the continuing resolution, Speaker John Boehner answered them yesterday.

I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels…When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips, we’re going to cut spending.

Read my lips, the Speaker said. As every conservative who remembers the first President Bush’s promise not to raise taxes, and his subsequent broken promise, those words are historically charged in our circles, and a Republican leader would not use them now without the resolve to back it up.

This is significant on a number of levels. Boehner is putting the Democrats on notice that Republicans are serious about these spending cuts, and that House passage is not some symbolic effort to follow through on a campaign pledge. Boehner is also girding his own Republican Conference for battle, giving them time to hone their argument to the American people.

But the Speaker’s statement also reveals that the conventional political wisdom emanating from the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s that has so paralyzed Republican efforts to cut spending ever since may be on the wane. And thank God for it. This fear to fight on the brink has demoralized Republicans and emboldened Democrats, because both sides knew that Republicans would cave when the clock runs out.

And finally, I want to make one last comment on leadership in general. Speaker Boehner is showing what leadership looks like. When Republican leaders pick major fights like this with the Left—as we are seeing with our conservative governors in Wisconsin and New Jersey—it gives them a whole lot more credibility when they must navigate the negotiations later on and explain developments to us. When they are paralyzed by fear, and when conservatives have to pick the fight for them and push them into the fray, it makes us far more suspicious of their later appeals that they’re getting the best deal they possibly could. Food for thought.