WASHINGTON – Forget the idea of a commanding House speaker like legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, or even a likeable one like Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois. The putative pivot man in the current budget and debt ceiling crises, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is there purely for symbolic and media purposes.
Boehner, a decent and reasonable man, lost whatever clout he had to solve problems 10 months ago. Right now he doesn’t know what or who he is.
On Jan. 3, right-wingers in the majority House Republican caucus essentially allowed Boehner to continue as speaker on a very short leash. Hard-liner Eric Cantor of Virginia, who had been openly trying to undermine Boehner for two years, was retained as majority leader. The series of crises under which the nation is suffering began in that organizing session.
Cantor allowed his name to be advanced as a rival to Boehner, unlike the House leadership elections of 2011 that followed the Republicans’ regaining the majority as a result of the tea party surge. Cantor received only a handful of votes last winter. Yet several Republicans just didn’t vote, brandishing their contempt for Boehner.
Cantor’s political action committee had made substantial financial gifts in 2012 to almost all of the House Republicans who are leading the charge to keep the government closed until the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is hobbled.
No one owns a head count of the GOP rebels, or call them libertarians or even anarchists. One recent study involving Democratic operative James Carville claims half of all Republican voters side with the rebels. This broad brush nicely enables Democrats to color all Republicans as irresponsible.
An examination of the 2012 cycle campaign finance records of the noisier members of this group in the House does not reveal a massive intrigue funded by the Koch Brothers. Most of their campaigns were modest by New York standards. Rep Louis Gohmert of Texas spent only $750,000, with very little PAC involvement. Paul Labrador of Idaho used just $830,000.
Marbled through the records of many of them, in addition to money from Cantor, is cash from libertarians Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks, the capital PAC created to take over from the legitimate grass-roots tea party.
One thing these Republicans have in common is that they campaigned ardently against Obamacare, which they said was rammed through a Democratic House by the narrowest margin after an all-night session in 2009.
Another is that they and/or their supporters have picked up the loose, nihilist rhetoric of entertainer Rush Limbaugh or worse, extremist Sean Hannity, who is bidding to segue into obscurity like Glenn Beck. Some of it tinged with racism.
Open conspiracy or not, these crises mark new opportunities by ultra conservatives to reconfigure today’s Republican Party into that of Herbert Hoover – one bent on destroying farm subsidies, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, all forms of government income support and government oversight of the banking, commodity and securities industries.
Mixed in here and there are corporatist hopes of lifting government interest in food, drug and meat processing, labor standards, and air and water pollution.
Any or all of these programs are bundled by hate radio and many of these radicals into “big government,” or unwelcome intrusions by our mixed-race president. So shutting down the government becomes not just an event but the whole object of the thing.
One mystery is how New York Republican Reps. Chris Collins of Clarence and Tom Reed of Corning can be re-elected after getting swept up in this.