John Boehner’s unforgivable sin

A very conservative Republican member of Congress told me a few years ago, “When Denny Hastert was speaker, you may not always have agreed with the agenda, but at least you knew what the agenda was. With Boehner you never know what the agenda is.”

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That’s John Boehner’s unforgivable sin, he never seemed to have an agenda.

Five years after the passage of Obamacare, with Republicans and millions of Americans calling to “repeal and replace” it, there is still no Republican plan to replace the law.

Probably the most asked question I’ve received over the past five years, when doing a radio talk shows or after a speech, was, “What is the Republican plan?”

Oh, there are Republican members of Congress who have their own plans, some very good, but there is no Republican plan—not even an outline.

Even as two U.S. Supreme Court decisions loomed—one dealing with Obamacare’s individual mandate and the other with the elimination of insurance subsidies in two-thirds of the states—which could have dramatically hobbled Obamacare and opened the door for an alternative, there was no Republican plan.

And it wouldn’t have even hard. Nearly all of the GOP members’ plans have the same basic elements. All Boehner would have had to do is have his staff and the necessary committee chairmen pull together an outline from the existing bills and say this is what Republicans would do. But it didn’t happen.

Besides being agenda-deficient, there never seemed to be any strategy.

In the umpteen various budget showdowns, you might have expected Republicans to be running radio and television ads across the country highlighting the way Washington—and especially Obama’s Washington—wastes taxpayer money.

Heck, former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma did most of the legwork, annually publishing his “Wastebook” that documented wasteful spending.

As CBS pointed out in last year’s edition:

One government program spent $190,000 to study compost digested by worms. Another $856,000 went to train mountain lions to walk on treadmills, $10,000 for an Oregon children’s theater production of “Zombie in Love” and $46,000 for a snowmobile competition in Michigan. Also, $414,000 was spent to update an Army video game meant to spur recruitment, a project already more than $25 million over budget.

A concerted ad blitz highlighting wasteful government spending might have put Obama on the defensive. Make Obama defend spending $10,000 on “Zombie in Love.” But in the absence of that information, the president focused on soldiers being unpaid, Social Security checks being threatened, national parks being closed, White House tours being canceled, and federal employees being furloughed.

Occasionally, someone in the GOP leadership would come up with a good idea that got traction—as when Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. But those successes were the rare exceptions to the rule.

John Boehner was a conservative who was dealt a difficult hand when Obama and the Democrats took control in 2009. Challenging that group was always going to be tough. But he—with help from Obama’s radical agenda—pulled off major victories in 2010 and again in 2014.

Where he failed was in never implementing an agenda and a strategy to win as many battles as they could.

One can be forgiven for trying and failing, but not trying is the unforgivable sin.

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