In retrospect, it’s funny to think about how way back in 2011, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner came oh so close to inking the sort of entitlement program-cutting “grand bargain” that would have sent the Beltway pundit class into heights of orgiastic ecstasy while, you know, economically immiserating millions of people. Had Boehner been the leader of the smarter GOP-majority caucuses of Houses of Representatives past, he would have gone down in history as a speaker who’d pulled off a major heist, smoothly extracting a raft of major concessions from a Democratic president.
Alas, Boehner came to power at the very time smart was going crazy, leading a caucus bent on the sort of zero-sum game that held that if Obama was able to earn a concession for himself ― or, really, save any face at all ― it was a bad deal all around. And so Boehner spent his latter days as speaker stuck between a president that wouldn’t give away the entire store and House colleagues that were willing to go to ridiculous lengths and resort to dangerous stunts to show how committed they were to their particular ideological pretensions. It pretty much saved America’s earned benefit programs, but it made governing all but impossible.
And so, in the fall of 2015, Boehner decided that all of this could just as easily be somebody else’s problem and he announced that he was going to resign. As CNN relayed Wednesday, Boehner, if nothing else, has a real appreciation for his sense of timing:
Former House Speaker John Boehner says he is thankful that he did not have to participate in the 2016 presidential election.
“Every day I’d watch it and was like, ‘Thank God I’m not in the middle of this,’” he told Cincinnati’s WCPO in an exclusive interview. “It was the most bizarre political year that we’ve seen in 100 years.”
The former Ohio lawmaker said he has no regrets about walking away from Congress in October 2015.
“There’s nothing I would change about when I left or how I left,” he said.
Indeed, if you look at the way the coming fight over just how Obamacare should be repealed and ― let me stifle a little laughter ― replaced is shaping up, it’s looking like the precise type of internecine fracas that drove Boehner to the merlot.
Republican leadership is planning to pull off what’s been called a “repeal and delay” maneuver in which the Affordable Care Act’s funding structures are gutted through a budget reconciliation process as soon as the next Congress is ready, but they leave themselves a three-year-long off-ramp to provide enough time to gin up some sort of ersatz “replacement.”
But the House’s “Freedom Caucus” isn’t having any of it ― they want this matter to be accomplished by the 115th Congress. The group’s leader, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), has vowed that any plan to extend the process beyond that window will be met with “major resistance.” It’s the precise sort of battle that inspired Boehner to get out of the game.
CNN goes on to note that Boehner was always very bullish on Donald Trump’s electoral chances and that the two men were, for a time, “texting buddies.” But when all is said and done and the new year brings about other political retirements, you shouldn’t be surprised if this jokey bit from this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner doesn’t herald the future of Boehner’s post-political relationships.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.