For an all-too-brief moment last week, it seemed that House Speaker John Boehner was finally fed up with his do-nothing Republican caucus and had decided to take the whole bunch to the woodshed.
Speaking to a hometown audience in Ohio recently, Mr. Boehner let his exasperation boil over, openly mocking lawmakers for their fear of voting on immigration legislation.
“Here is their attitude,” he told a Rotary Club luncheon: “Oooh, don’t make me do this. Oooh, this is too hard.”
He scolded fellow House members for failing to do their jobs. “We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.”
If Mr. Boehner sounded frustrated, it’s because he has much to be frustrated about. He has the dubious distinction of leading a House whose obstructionist stance has pushed Congress to compile one of the worst records of inaction in history.
The first session of the 113th Congress last year was considered the most unproductive ever, enacting only 60 public laws in the first 11 months, compared to the previous post-war low of 88 in 1995. At the time, Mr. Boehner explained it this way: “There’s not as much common ground as there used to be.”
Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t mean the country has fewer problems than before. Nor does it entitle lawmakers to sit around idly, marking time on the public payroll while waiting for a risk-free environment to emerge. Legislating is not supposed to be easy, and legislators have to deal with issues that demand action, politically risky or not. After all, that’s their job — as Mr. Boehner pointed out.
But, alas, last Monday Congress returned to work (LOL) after another prolonged recess and suddenly Mr. Boehner appeared to lose his nerve. Back on Capitol Hill, it was business as usual, tough talk replaced by soothing reassurances that it was all just a joke.
During a closed door session with Republican lawmakers, Mr. Boehner said he was just kidding when he ridiculed their reluctance to act on immigration measures. Later, he told reporters, “You tease the ones you love, right?”
Apparently, the steel in the speaker’s spine turns to jelly the minute he steps inside the Beltway. The tough talk turns to mush when he has to face his caucus.
The big losers in this sad display of political cowardice are the voters, who have a right to expect better from their elected representatives.
They have a right to expect the speaker to follow through on a set of guiding principles on immigration reform he released in January. In abandoning that agenda, he caved in to the most retrograde elements of his party, refusing to vote on a reform bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support.
They have a right to expect action on basic issues like replenishing the Highway Trust Fund, which provides federal funding of highway projects in all 50 states. The fund is expected to run dry as early as August, but some Republicans are afraid to vote because it involves those two dreaded words — taxes and spending.
Even bills approved by overwhelming margins in both the Senate and House — a massive water-resources bill with money for the Everglades, for example — are held up because negotiators fear to act.
It’s up to leaders like Mr. Boehner to move the agenda, but apparently he was right about the mantra on Capitol Hill: Oooh, this is too hard.