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. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
<<
<
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 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT