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Published: Thursday, 1/10/2013

Boehner must lead

Ohioan John Boehner, re-elected last week as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, continues to be America’s highest-ranking Republican. Unless he acts more like a leader, however, he will continue to fail his party and, more importantly, the nation.

Mr. Boehner is off to a shaky start. Twelve members of his own party either voted for someone else or abstained — the most defections in more than two decades. Mr. Boehner’s failure to get unanimous support from Republicans, as he did when he was first elected in 2010, is yet another sign of a fractured Congress that is threatened by paralysis while the nation faces critical problems, including escalating debt, climate change, a still-sluggish economy, and gun control.

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Intractable differences — between not only the two parties but also moderates and Tea Party activists in the GOP — could make progress on these issues and others practically impossible.

Politicians get things done and move the nation forward when there’s some give and take. Unfortunately, Washington politics have become a blood sport, with political players oblivious to the harm their standoffs inflict on the nation.

Gridlock nearly sent the country over a so-called fiscal cliff that could have plunged it into another recession.

Mr. Boehner hardly played the role of a moderate negotiator or diplomatic statesman, as he and his party appeared more intent on embarrassing President Obama than offering viable alternatives. Even so, some House conservatives said Mr. Boehner didn’t go far enough in opposing the President. They sent Mr. Boehner a message by opposing his re-election as speaker.

Acrimony among Republicans doesn’t bode well for progress as Congress debates how to address the debt ceiling while paying for essential domestic and military programs. Making necessary but responsible cuts will require a common ground that so far has eluded Congress and the President.

To be sure, the office of House speaker doesn’t have the luster or power it once had, in part because Mr. Boehner himself convinced Republicans to do away with earmarks that former House speakers used as negotiating tools. Despite its good intentions, the earmark ban has made Mr. Boehner’s job more difficult.

Still, Mr. Boehner has the third most powerful job in the federal government. He needs to use that power to get his fellow conservatives behind proposals that have a realistic chance of moving forward. The nation can’t afford two more years of gridlock.

Mr. Boehner is only the 53rd person in history to be House speaker. Since 1987, there have been six. It’s nice to have an Ohioan in such a key position. But he won’t advance the interests of the state or nation if he can’t get his own party in line to negotiate and, when necessary, compromise.

 



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