I don't know whether this report is accurate or not. However, Speaker Boehner has proved to be a rather weak and ineffectual leader. His tenure as Speaker has been one of missed opportunities. It has also been one of repeated failures to align the support behind policy solutions (his doomed "Plan B" is just one example).
The problem, of course, is more than just about the Speaker. The recent debacle over relief for Sandy's victims illustrates the kind of “tone deafness” to reality that led the 112th Congress to achieve very little in terms of helping the nation address its big challenges.
As the 112th Congress concluded, Speaker Boehner and his Leadership team found itself caught between a PR crisis associated with its decision to block Sandy-related disaster relief on one hand and just adopted fiscal cliff legislation that contains no meaningful spending-related savings on the other. The PR crisis is not going to win the House Leadership any public support. The latter outcome does not provide credibility on the fiscal responsibility front.
The Speaker and the House Leadership did not arrive at that juncture mainly on account of the President or Democrats. They arrived there mainly as the result of their own choices over the course of the 112th Congress. Near-miss after near-miss suggested a proverbial disaster was looming.
During summer 2011, there was a tangible opportunity for a credible fiscal consolidation package. Had the House Leadership countered with a proposal to split the remaining difference on taxes, the President would have been put in an untenable position of being held responsible for the failure to reach agreement had he rejected the counteroffer. Instead, the House Leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It punted in August .
Some might argue that the House leadership refused to take such an initiative out of principle. That's not an unfair argument. However, one cannot assume that the wisdom or merits of such a choice is self-evident. Such an assumption is another example of flawed leadership, as it shows a lack of need to align support behind one's positions. The public's postion vis-a-vis tax policy in repeated opinion polls may well reflect this failure to align support for a decision.
In any case, following the punt, more than a year was available to develop a credible fiscal consolidation package. The House Leadership failed to develop such a package that could command broad support (particularly among the public). It also failed to develop legislation to implement the Bowles-Simpson plan, widely viewed as credible, as a fallback position. Their seeming assumption: a solution would magically appear. Alas, Washington is not Disneyland. There was no fairy tale ending with meaningful spending-related savings.
In the end, the House adopted legislation to avert the fiscal cliff’s tax-related provisions. That legislation contained no meaningful spending-related savings. The CBO’s verdict? The House voted to increase the nation’s 10-year debt by nearly $4 trillion. The House Leadership's choices are a key reason that such a minimalist package was adopted.
That same tone deafness led the House Leadership to shelve disaster relief legislation. The underlying assumptions were that such a move would inflict no harm, disaster state representatives would be indifferent, and Governor Christie, a Republican governor, would be quiet. All three assumptions were wrong. First, real people continue to suffer. Second, the representatives in disaster-affected states have seen firsthand that suffering and are committed to providing relief. A harsh reaction was to be expected. Third, Governor Christie has demonstrated a penchant to put the interests of his State and constituents ahead of partisan considerations, even during the heat of a Presidential campaign. One could not reasonably have expected that he would be indifferent to the outcome.
CNN reported the following of Governor Christie's remarks today:
Pulling no punches, Christie declared: "Last night, the House majority failed most basic test of leadership and they did so with callous disregard to the people of my state. ... It was disappointing and disgusting to watch." He also unapologetically named names: "There's only one group to blame ... the House majority, and their Speaker, John Boehner." He added that the relief bill "just could not overcome the toxic internal politics of the House majority."
Chris Christie drops bomb on GOP leaders - CNN.com
The "toxic internal politics" of which the New Jersey governor spoke of is a classic symptom of leadership failure.
In the face of withering criticism, the Speaker reversed himself (ironically, adding to perceptions of weakness that have persistently dogged him). He will now permit a vote on $9 billion in disaster relief on Friday and another vote on $51 billion in disaster relief on January 15.
Nonetheless, his team and he won’t receive credit from the public. Credit will be accorded those who fought tenaciously for a vote, not those who initially blocked it and relented only under harsh criticism. The public understands that had there been little or no criticism of the short-sighted decision to block the aid package, there probably would have been no disaster relief for Sandy’s victims.
In the end, tone deafness to reality has led to suboptimal outcomes and that tone deafness is a reflection, in large part, on the House's Leadership team headed by Speaker Boehner.. Those who understand the lessons of history, or narrower ones of PR, can recognize the avoidable nature of the House Leadership’s predicament. For all its claims of commitment to fiscal responsibility, the House Leadership team failed to realize the kind of deficit savings that were probably attainable. It is also solely responsible for having positioned itself as opposing relief to those who suffered from Sandy’s wrath and inflicting on itself yet another PR disaster.
All said, while there might be worse possibilities as Speaker than John Boehner, the reality is that John Boehner has not demonstrated the kind of effective leadership one would reasonably expect from that position.