Skip to main content

No good options for Boehner

By Marian Currinder and Josh Huder, Special to CNN
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Wed October 2, 2013
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The federal government has shut down for the first time since 1996
  • Marian Currinder, Josh Huder: What will House Speaker John Boehner do?
  • They say as Boehner faces tough choices, his Speakership hangs in the balance
  • Currinder, Huder: Will he rely on a minority of the majority of his party to pass bill?

Editor's note: Marian Currinder and Josh Huder are senior fellows at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.

(CNN) -- The federal government has shut down for the first time since 1996 and all eyes are focused on House Speaker John Boehner. Will he continue to insist upon tying a repeal or delay of Obamacare to a funding bill? Or will he bring the Senate-passed funding bill to the House floor and hope that he can convince 17 Republicans to join hands with the chamber's 200 Democrats and vote to re-open the federal government?

It all depends on whether he chooses to follow or ignore the Hastert Rule. The choice isn't an easy one, as his speakership quite likely hangs in the balance.

The Hastert Rule is named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, who did not bring bills to the floor unless those bills were supported by a majority of House Republicans. It is not a formal rule, but rather a promise to uphold the will of a majority of the majority. House Republicans expected Boehner to uphold the rule and he pledged to do so.

Marian Currinder
Marian Currinder

But the shutdown and the upcoming showdown over raising the debt limit underscore Boehner's leadership dilemma -- almost any bill that a majority of House Republicans support is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Josh Huder
Josh Huder

Fewer laws were passed in the last Congress than in any Congress since 1861, and based on the number of floor votes taken so far this year, the current Congress is on track to be even less productive. It is also the most partisan Congress since the Civil War era.

As the shutdown gets under way, many are looking for signs of what kind of leader Boehner will be. Instead, they should consider what kind of leader he can be, given the political hand he's been dealt.

Gone are the days of House speakers plying members with promises of pork and campaign money. Earmarks have been banned, most incumbents do their own fundraising, and for many of the chamber's newer members, ideology trumps party loyalty.

House Speaker John Boehner, then and now
Obama: GOP holding economy hostage
Sen. Paul: We've offered to compromise

The electoral landscape doesn't help. In 1995-96, when the federal government last shut down, 34% of House Republicans represented districts that Bill Clinton won in 1992. Today, just 7% of House Republicans come from districts that President Obama won last year. There is almost no electoral incentive for these members to compromise. The bottom line is that Boehner's arsenal is limited. He is hamstrung by the very institution and members he is supposed to lead.

So what are Boehner's options at this point? He could, as he has done previously, pass a funding bill on the backs of House Democrats. The 2011 and 2012 omnibus spending bills, the 2011 Budget Control Act, and the 2012 Payroll Tax Bill all passed the House because of Democratic support. And earlier this year, Boehner brought the Violence Against Women Act and the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill to the floor, despite opposition from a majority of House Republicans. These bills had bipartisan support in the Senate, making it difficult for Boehner to dig his heels in and stand behind his conservative majority.

Flash forward to now. What is the House speaker's calculus, given that the Senate passed its funding bill on a party-line vote?

Absent the pressure to appease Republican senators, Boehner will have a tough time justifying any move to defy the will of his party's majority. Convincing House Republicans to pass the Senate's funding bill and re-open the federal government will require him to lead in a way that may not be possible, should he wish to remain speaker.

No House speaker wants to go down in history for a legislative record opposed by the majority of his or her own party. And no speaker wants to go down in history for presiding over one of the most unproductive Congresses in history. But these are Boehner's choices.

While Hastert relied on a majority of the majority, Boehner has had to rely on a minority of the majority, together with a majority of the minority, to pass important legislation. The "Boehner Rule" is hardly the stuff to which great leaders aspire. It may, however, prove more productive than following the lead of his majority.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marian Currinder and Josh Huder.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:30 PM EST, Sun December 28, 2014
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT