Boehner’s House vs. White House: House Speaker is playing chicken with President Obama

One of the biggest mysteries of the midterm election was whether House Speaker John Boehner could lead a divided Republican caucus comprised of 87 new members, many of whom were backed by the Tea Party. After a coalition of liberal Democrats and wayward Tea Party representatives rallied last Wednesday to shoot down funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s alternative engine, the answer appears to be no.

Boehner has been hypocritically urging fellow Republicans to cut wasteful spending — except of course the wasteful spending in his district. The alternative engine, which would have been built in Boehner’s home state of Ohio, has been one of the house speaker’s gluttonous pet projects.

The Defense Department commissioned Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney to develop a state of the art engine for its Joint Strike Fighter, but prominent Republicans pushed for General Electric and Rolls Royce to build an unnecessary model that would have cost taxpayers more than $3 billion during the next several years, according to POLITICO. Proponents for the superfluous engine contend that the competition would drive the price down.

Of the 87 new Republicans, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., rounded 47 into voting against the measure — an impressive feat for a sophomore congressman to pull against his party’s leadership. Boehner dismissed the vote, calling it the House “working its will.” As much criticism as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received for her managerial style, there is no denying she was an effective party leader, corralling rebellious representatives from widely diverse districts to vote for some of the most contentious legislation in decades. Thus far, Boehner has not displayed the same ability. His open-amendment policy forced the House to consider 583 different amendments on a recent appropriations bill, making the convoluted legislative process even more chaotic.

If Boehner and the other House Republicans are serious about cutting domestic spending, they need to look more at the bloated defense budget and less at programs people rely on. The House passed a spending measure Saturday, cutting $60 billion in spending on education, environmental regulation and community services, including $747 million in food aid for impoverished mothers with young children, according to the Associated Press.

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year suffers from many of the same problems. Obama called for cuts to programs that help pay heating costs for the elderly while not pitching a coherent strategy to reduce entitlement spending. The president should have matched the Republicans dollar for dollar in cuts, but slashed programs that are not going to literally put people out in the cold. By placing his cuts next to the Republicans’ and letting the American people decide, Obama could have clearly demonstrated his party’s concern with reducing the deficit.
Boehner and the Tea Partiers are not just cutting the budget; they are toying with people’s wellbeing. Budgets reflect a society’s values. There are no easy cuts, only politically expedient ones. The people who will be most affected by Boehner’s cavalier leadership are those who cannot defend themselves — the students and the poor, the elderly and the infirm.

With the threat of a government shutdown on the horizon, Boehner is placing himself in a disastrous position by allowing so many partisan spending cuts in these appropriation measures. The House bill will never pass the Senate and Obama will never sign it. If Americans stop getting their benefit checks next month, they will finally see what an integral role the federal government plays in their lives.

This game of political brinkmanship between the White House and the Republican leadership is not going to reduce the federal deficit. Bipartisan coalitions – like the one struck to cut funding for the F-35 engine – are needed for real change.

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