The Most Powerful Man In The World

Lately, I’ve been having a recurring nightmare.  In my dream, I’m John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House.  That would be reason enough for my dream to be dreadful but it’s much worse than that.  What’s causing my nightmare is a scenario in which the Federal Government needs to get Congress to agree to raise the debt ceiling so as to pay, as President Obama has said, “the bills it has racked up” and I, as John Boehner, have to decide whether to heel to the howls of the extremists in my party who want to use their vote as a negotiating tool, or do what’s best for the country.

I (as Neil) get most of my news from either The Times, MSNBC or the person with whom I happen to being sharing an elevator ride. Over the last number of years I’ve learned tons about the workings of our government, not the least of which is a real life demonstration of, “How a bill becomes a law”.  And what I’ve also learned is that in an extreme mis-functioning of governing, too much power is placed in the hands of too few people.  In no way, shape or form does the majority rule.  Apart from the overuse of the filibuster in the Senate, the real threat to any sense of democracy is in the extraordinary powers invested in the Speaker of The House.

As you probably know, unless the debt limit is raised by Congress, the Federal Government will face the prospect of defaulting on our obligations sometime in the next several weeks. From everything I’ve read and heard, that could lead to a devastating effect on our economy with a possible word-wide economic melt down.  That sounds like something that would be good to avoid.

On whole, there is a real difference in the quality of politicians who serve in the Senate and the House.  The Senate is composed of people who are, by and large, more well-educated and less provincial than their House counterparts.  The House, particularly the members from rural districts, is populated with people who own the local car wash, store clerks or the guy down the block with the big mouth.  Being a Congressperson is far and away the best job they’ll ever have.

I doubt the Senate will block the raising of the debt ceiling…the Republicans aren’t incompetent enough to threaten to drive the country (or world) off an economic cliff as a bargaining chip.  And if there was a vote in the House, a majority of the entire membership would almost certainly also vote to raise the limit without tying that vote to the kinds of spending cuts that are dear to the far, far, far right.  But here is where the Speaker’s outsized power comes into play: he and only he decides which bills are allowed to come up for a vote.  Allowing a bill authorizing an increase in the debt ceiling to come up for a vote which would then pass with a handful of Republicans joining almost all the Democrats would result in a revolt by the right-wing in Boehner’s caucus, possibly costing him his Speakership.

So in my dream, here I am… John Boehner, an average, chain-smoking, tan salonning Joe from Ohio.  And it’s up to me to decide if I’ll allow the vote or instead, risk the possibility of causing a destruction of the world economies.  Is it any wonder I’m having nightmares?  Let’s hope he is, too.

John--not your head, the desk!

John–not your head, the desk!

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