Commentary

Dear Mr. Speaker

The voters yesterday reelected the President, elected a new set of Senators that are still mostly Democrats but more progressive, and elected a new set of Representatives that are still mostly Republicans but more conservative.  That means John Boehner remains the President’s chief negotiating partner, and puts him in a position to decide whether our political system should continue to be paralyzed.  Here’s what I wish the President would say to him:

Congratulations on your reelection, Mr. Speaker.  I heard what you said last night about your perception of a mandate to oppose me.  I understand why you would say that, and why you would feel it.  But I want to ask something of you.

Your party maintained a majority in the House, which is good for you.  But the caucus you have now is a little bit smaller and, generally, even more conservative.  I think that while you and Senator McConnell will no longer see the prospect of electoral victory in a strategy of lockstep obstruction, many of your members will surely perceive the same mandate you talked about.

Nonetheless, there are going to be a lot of important issues for us to deal with in the next two years.  We’ll negotiate for each one, I have no doubt, and I don’t expect you or the members of your caucus to see eye-to-eye with me.  But we cannot put ourselves in the same position we found ourselves in the summer of 2011 – carefully negotiating a grand bargain on the debt ceiling, only to watch it crumble when your right wing balked.

So, this is what I’m asking of you.  Negotiate firmly, but negotiate.  Don’t walk away from your role in this government.  And when you talk about what we’re doing, don’t enflame the partisans.  Leave yourself room to be Speaker of the whole house, on occasion, by reaching out to the moderate Democrats for some votes; many of them are closer to you ideologically than are the extremes of your party, anyway, I suspect.  You are not going to win elections by hardening the divisions between us, and you can effect better policy by partnering with me and the Senate in good faith.

So, let’s set aside the irrational rancor and reckless obstruction.  It’s not just a question of addressing our national challenges, it’s a question of preserving the legitimacy of our republican system.  It’s time to sit down and get to the hard work of governing.

Update: Since I drafted the post this morning, the Speaker has given a second speech.  The Post characterizes his speech as opening the door to new revenues, but it’s not clear to me that he is really ceding any new ground.  But, it is a more conciliatory approach: “Tuesday’s election amounted to a plea from voters for the parties to lay down their weapons of the past two years and ‘do what’s best for our country.'”  That’s encouraging.

Then again, not everyone is so hopeful: Stan Collender says “You’re asking people to compromise on things in four weeks they haven’t been able to compromise on in four years[…] The most likely outcome is let the cliff happen.”  We’ll see.

How would you like to see the President and Speaker talk about this election?

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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