The Boehner Protocols

Think what you will about John Boehner, the presumptive Speaker of the House stands as the most powerful opposition leader in American political history. The party discipline enforced by the pugnacious Ohio Republican meant that Democrats with a massive majority were forced to sweat out intra-party compromises to get measures passed in the House. The imagery presented to Americans of a unified Republican House standing in opposition to measures that were always (according to the Minority Leader) “forced down our throats”, cost untold electoral damage to the Democrats in 2010.

The Republicans, led by Mr. Boehner, came out of their 2008 drubbing with a plan: oppose every policy item favored by Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, or President Obama. This opposition was to be reflexive; members were to fight legislative offerings regardless of content, purpose, or ideological origin. The Republican Senate had the occasional defector; not so in the House. Now the unified and flush with success House Republicans are poised to run a more aggressive playbook during this new Congress, and the new Speaker is poised to run his gameplan from a position of strength. But who is John Boehner, and what are his plans for 2011?

The 61 year-old Boehner is beginning his eleventh term in Congress, and he possesses all of the characteristics that make a Speaker. He is both tough and ruthless, understands the vote-counting game, and believes that party comes first. John Boehner is not, however, a detail man; in a prepared speech in front of the U.S. Capitol, he confused the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution. Facts don’t seem to rise high on Mr. Boehner’s checklist either; that measure’s spending in his home state, and the overall success of the law were both subjects worth distortions (if not outright lies) by the Minority Leader.

In this new Congress, John Boehner and his key lieutenants have planned a series of attacks on many aspects of the American experience. Mr. Boehner and his people are also planning an acceleration of the dirty tricks brigade assault on the President used to great effect for the last two years. The “Blame Obama” gambit started long before his inauguration (Hannity famously labeled the recession the “Obama Recession” barely one month after the election.) What follows are the protocols we will see this year in the House; I submit to you that they have nothing to do with American values or conservative principles, and everything to do with bringing about what Karl Rove called the “permanent Republican majority”.

  1. The Republicans will do everything possible to force a government shutdown and/or manufacture a debt default, with the sole intent being to attack the image of the Democrats and the President. The artificial debt ceiling is the principal tool in this arsenal, but a fiscal shutdown isn’t the only goal. Soon to be Speaker Boehner can pass legislation in the House, but Republicans don’t have the votes to continue the work in the Senate. The House originates all budget activities, so expect delay and blackmail to be used extensively.
  2. The Republicans will spend billions of dollars and thousands of Congressional hours in an attempt to find something damning to stick on President Obama. Congressman Issa was promising a blizzard of subpoenas last summer, and most other members of the Republican House are eager to do what they called (when it was Bush and Cheney in the potential line of fire) using the tools for purely political purposes. This is, as most Americans understand, a political pissing match. Republicans have a profound party memory of both Watergate and Iran-Contra, and the Clinton “oral office” witch-hunt wasn’t nearly enough to curb the blood-lust.
  3. Republicans will use the Social Security Trust Fund to create the illusion of fiscal discipline. Social Security is a solvent and highly functional program paid for via a regressive tax; you would think it would be a conservative untouchable. But you would be counting out the conservative rush to push the $2 trillion annually collected by the FICA tax into private investment. There the monies would not guarantee any level of retirement security, but they would guarantee several billion dollars per year in additional fees and bonuses to Wall Street types (regardless of fund performance). Any questions, research under “Bailouts, Financial”.
  4. Republicans will ration Medicare, and not in the way they falsely accused “ObamaCare”. Representative Ryan’s technique for budget balancing is to index Medicare payout growth to inflation. Sounds reasonable right? The problem is that health care costs have been increasing at 4 or more times the rate of inflation for three decades now. If your wage stayed the same for the next 20 years, would you still have the same spending power then as you do now? Most Americans understand that math, and so does Mr. Ryan, but this is part of the same war on the working class as point 3.
  5. Repeal the Affordable Care Act; otherwise known as health care reform. Mr. Boehner will not be able to repeal the Act, because the votes for such repeal will not be found in the Senate (and because some in the Republican House will not want to run against what they voted to repeal…politics is tricky indeed.) The soon to be Speaker might be able to squeeze federal funding enough to delay some of the measures that become effective this year.

Point 5 makes me curious; what are some of the measures that the Boehner Protocols are targeting? For that, I have listed a handful from the excellent guide to health reform created by the folks at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Minimum Medical Loss Ratio

Requires health plans to report the proportion of premium dollars spent on clinical services, quality, and other costs and provide rebates to consumers if the share of the premium spent on clinical services and quality is less than 85% for plans in the large group market and 80% for plans in the individual and small group markets.

Implementation: Requirement to report medical loss ratio effective for 2010; requirement to provide rebates effective beginning January 1, 2011

Closing The Medicare Drug Coverage Gap

Requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide a 50% discount on brand-name prescriptions filled in the Medicare Part D coverage gap beginning in 2011 and begins phasing-in federal subsidies for generic prescriptions filled in the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

Implementation: January 1, 2011

Medicare Payments For Primary Care And General Surgeons

Provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment for primary care services; also, provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment to general surgeons practicing in health professional shortage areas.

Implementation: January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2015

Medicare Prevention Benefits

Eliminates cost-sharing for Medicare-covered preventive services that are recommended (rated A or B) by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and waives the Medicare deductible for colorectal cancer screening tests; authorizes Medicare coverage for a personalized prevention plan, including a comprehensive health risk assessment.

Implementation: January 1, 2011

Throughout 2010, The Rational Middle was a forum for research and discussion on many of these issues, and 2011 will be no different. But as I have often written, it is the individual research done via the reading of original sources, that is critical to an informed and successful democracy. The presumptive Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is prepared to execute a set of protocols that could undermine the basis of rational legislation and governance in our democracy. I write this admittedly inflammatory statement not because Mr. Boehner opposes legislation I favor, but because of the manner with which he executes his opposition. The disregard of well-founded fact is not an appropriate tool in a representative democracy, it is an artifact instead of all of the shabbiest dictators and snake oil salesman around the world.

The Rational Middle is listening…