If it appears that John Boehner is suffering from multiple personality disorder over the debt ceiling stand-off, that's because he is. Torn between his duty to the national interest as Speaker of the House and to the Tea Party caucus that put him there, for months Boehner has ping-ponged between truth and lies on the debt ceiling. Long before he breached faith with the President on Friday, John Boehner tried to have it both ways on virtually every aspect of the debt ceiling crisis manufactured by the Republican Party he struggles to lead.
As Jed Lewison documented, Speaker Sybil couldn't get his story straight on Friday's walkout. While he insisted during his press conference afterward that "we had an agreement on a revenue number," in a letter that same day to House Republicans Boehner insisted that "A deal was never reached, and was never really close."
As it turns out, John Boehner's duplicity started long before he picked up the Speaker's gavel.
In the wake of the Republicans' overwhelming triumph at the polls last fall, Speaker-to-be Boehner was his party's voice of reason on the debt ceiling. As the Wall Street Journal reported on November 18 ("Boehner Warns GOP on Debt Ceiling"), Boehner pressed his newly enlarged Republican caucus on the need to raise the debt ceiling and so protect the full faith and credit of the United States.
"I've made it pretty clear to them that as we get into next year, it's pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with this," Mr. Boehner, who is slated to become House speaker in January, told reporters.
"We're going to have to deal with it as adults," he said, in what apparently are his most explicit comments to date. "Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part."
If an increase in the current debt limit of $14.3 trillion does not pass, it would suggest the country may not meet its obligations and would shake the financial system. It could rock the bond market, rattle the dollar and scare away foreign buyers of U.S. debt.
In January, Boehner echoed Paul Ryan's warning that "you can't not raise the debt ceiling" and Lindsey Graham's dire prediction that failure to do so would produce "collapse and calamity throughout the world." As Speaker Boehner put it then:
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said, 'we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs.' And you can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."
But that same month, Boehner was also insisting President Obama would have to make concessions to Republicans on the debt ceiling that George W. Bush, needless to say, never faced:
The American people will not stand for such an increase unless it is accompanied by meaningful action by the President and Congress to cut spending and end the job-killing spending binge in Washington.
After bringing the government to the brink of a shutdown over budget cuts demanded by the GOP in April, a newly confident Speaker Boehner made abundantly clear he would join the hardliners in the House and Senate holding the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling hostage. As Politico reported, Boehner set out to prove "there's no daylight between the Tea Party and me":
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), fresh off the budget talks, told donors this weekend that if Obama wants an up or down vote on the debt ceiling he's not going to get it.
"The president says I want you to send me a clean bill," Boehner said. "Well guess what, Mr. President, not a chance you're going to get a clean bill."
"There will not be an increase in the debt limit without something really, really big attached to it," he continued in a clip of his remarks at a fundraiser that was played during "Face the Nation."
That really, really big "something" turned out to be the draconian Paul Ryan budget. After refusing to endorse the Ryan Roadmap during the 2010 campaign, John Boehner joined 234 House Republicans and 40 GOP Senators in voting for the Ryan plan. But Ryan's blueprint didn't merely privatize Medicare, slash Medicaid and deliver yet another tax cut windfall for the wealthy; it would also add another $6 trillion in debt over the next decade. As a result, the GOP's own Ryan budget not only violates the "Cut, Cap and Balance Act" spending targets they just voted for this week. It would also require the Republicans to raise the ceiling repeatedly in the future.
In a rare moment of candor, Speaker John Boehner admitted as much.
As Reuters detailed, Speaker Boehner told a gathering of Buckeye state Tea Partiers in April that the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling must be raised now - and not for the last time:
The private April 25 meeting was convened by the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the request of Tea Party leaders, who were seething over recent Republican compromises, most notably on the 2011 budget.
One of the 25 or so leaders, all from Boehner's district, asked him if Republicans would raise America's $14.3 trillion debt limit.
According to half a dozen attendees interviewed by Reuters, the most powerful Republican in Washington said "yes."
"And we're going to have to raise it again in the future," he added. With the mass retirement of America's Baby Boomers, he explained, it would take 20 years to balance the U.S. budget and 30 years after that to erase the nation's huge fiscal deficit.
If Congress doesn't raise the debt limit by August 2nd, Speaker Boehner agreed with President Obama that the federal government could not guarantee that Social Security checks would sent out as required. And as Boehner explained just 10 days ago, that's just the beginning of the dire consequences if the Treasury's August 2 deadline is missed:
"Missing August 2nd could spook the market. And you could have a real catastrophe. Nobody wants that to happen."
As it turns out, that's precisely what many of his Republican colleagues want to happen. And in late June, Boehner joined the "default deniers" claiming the Obama administration's warnings about that early August deadline were "scare tactics" and "outright blatant lies":
"Dealing with this deficit problem is far more important than meeting some artificial date created by the Treasury secretary."
Of course, John Boehner played a vital role in the creation of the massive national debt he now routinely decries.
Leave aside for the moment that Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and increased the debt ceiling 17 times. Forget also George W. Bush nearly doubled the debt or that the Bush tax cuts were the biggest driver of debt over the past decade, and if made permanent, would be continue to be so over the next. Pay no attention to the federal tax burden now at its lowest level in 60 years or income inequality at its highest level in 80 years after a decade of plummeting rates for America's supposed job creators who don't create jobs. Ignore for now that Republican majorities voted seven times to raise the debt ceiling under President Bush and the current GOP leadership team voted a combined 19 times to bump the debt limit $4 trillion during his tenure. Look away from the two unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the Medicare prescription drug program because, after all, John Boehner voted for all of it.
Alas, that was then and this is now. And now, a Democrat is in the White House. Which means for John Boehner, raising the debt ceiling at all is now a "concession." As UPI reported two weeks ago:
At a news conference Monday before heading to the White House for a meeting, Boehner said the only Republican concession Obama should expect is a vote raising the federal debt limit itself.
"Most Americans would say that a 'balanced' approach is a simple one -- the administration gets its debt-limit increase and the American people get their spending cuts and their reforms," he said. "And adding tax increases to the equation doesn't 'balance' anything."
Not, that is, for the unbalanced John Boehner.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)