The Difference Between “Caving” and “Governing”


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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210 Responses

  1. In one sense, he was doing the opposite of caving, since his stance is manifestly unpopular with the most vociferous part of his caucus.Report

    • Yeah, the nutball Republicans out there can probably be counted on to yell about Boehner cutting a deal and not getting anything out of it. And they’ll be able to point to articles like TPM’s as reason that if you’re going to crash and burn anyway, you should crash and burn for your friends.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Did the Democrats not do anything good today that you’re writing a post praising Republicans now?Report

  3. Avatar clawback says:

    There’s no reason to choose between “caving” and “governing”. They started by threatening to trash the economy if they didn’t get their goody list granted. Then they caved and agreed to actually govern.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to clawback says:

      Cool. As long as we get to cling to our guns and religio…err, contempt and scorn, it’s a good day in America.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        clawback is absolutely right here, and right to say it. (Can’t tell if you’re saying otherwise.) They should learn the lesson of having gone down this destructive route rather than governing (which would have been taking threats around the debt ceiling off the table from the start) by having it said about them that they caved – and that they were derelict in governing until such time as they were forced to cave. Which arguably isn’t even itself “governing” in the sense that connotes responsibility and prudence that Tod uses, so arguably they still shouldn’t be given credit for governing even now. Lessons should be learned here.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:


        This sounds so counterproductive. Punishing bad behavior after the behavior has stopped is so much shooting yourself in the foot.

        Setting aside obstructing government for governing should be applauded.

        (Of course, GOP politics also functions in some reflectionary world where anything approved by Obama/Democrats must be opposed, so deriding the debt ceiling as caving by progressives would presumably provoke a positive response by the right.)

        But this is too 3-D chess for me.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        I’m with zic. Think parenting. My kid’s been slamming the door every day and I keep yelling at them about it. Today she closed the door quietly, just as I’ve wanted. Should I get in her face and crow about her knuckling under to my authority? If the answer to both of the following questions isn’t yes, then I should not do so.

        1. Is it really productive in encouraging the kind of behavior I want from her?

        2. Is that really the kind of person I want to be?Report

      • Saying that they “caved” when they shut down the government is perfectly good. Especially when you can show a picture of Ted Cruz, the ringleader, doing the caving. Good show! I mean that.

        This is a bit different than that, though. This was Boehner doing what liberals wanted. Taunting that was not only fun but a good tactical move after the shutdown ended may not be as good an idea here.

        On the other hand, given the degree of failure the last time they did try the shutdown route, it may not matter so much. Boehner has enough capital – or Cruz sufficiently little – that he can absorb the blow.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        When two debt ceiling limits are reached and there is never any hint from Congressional leadership that there is any intention but to allow enough debt to be issued to cover existing obligations without regard to “concessions,” then we’ll know the behavior has stopped. I’d listen to an argument that it wold only take one. Right now, we’re in the direct aftermath of the continued insistence on the destructive behavior – not even any statements signalling such intentions about the future have even been offered. Right now, we’re simply between episodes (though, really more or less still in the midst of this one – there is still difficulty this leadership faces simply in mustering the votes necessary to, as Tod puts is “govern.”) We don’t know that the behavior has stopped.

        Even then, though, I still disagree. It’s enough that some behaviors just stop. Other behaviors you want to attach a lasting disincentive to restart to a successful effort to bring one episode to a conclusion. I think that’s the case here. Republicans (and Democrats, ahem Sen. Barack Obama!) should come away from this era equating debt ceiling shenanigans to political woe. Let them be called cavers if that will get that done. Let them be called worse. The best outcome is that they become so disinclined to use the tactic in the future that the primary imperative becomes to deny the opposing party the ability to use it, and the Gephardt approach to the debt ceiling is revived and passed on overwhelming bipartisan majorities.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to James Hanley says:

        For the record, I’m under no illusion that the tone of my comment at Ordinary Times is going to have any impact on the Republicans in Congress. I imagine the TPM people are similarly free of illusion.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        Sure, no one person’s tone is going to matter. The collective tone does, though, so it’s one thing to say it yourself, and another to say that liberals as a group should all do so.

        And there’s also that nagging issue of what kind of person you want to be. I’m seeing some defense of taunting here, but none that suggests that winners who taunt the losers are actually anyone we’d normally admire. It’s the low road.Report

      • Republicans (and Democrats, ahem Sen. Barack Obama!) should come away from this era equating debt ceiling shenanigans to political woe. Let them be called cavers if that will get that done.

        My issue is that in this case, you’re calling him a caver for averting those shenanigans! If you want someone to cave, then taunting them when they do is a curious tactic.

        That being said, we’re actually not too far apart on this. The hurt from last year is probably sufficient that it will not tilt the internal calculus of the congressional GOP. By the time that hurt is gone, it may well meet your own threshold of having moved on. (If your view is that this prolongs the hurt, I don’t agree with that.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        My issue is that in this case, you’re calling him a caver for averting those shenanigans!

        This is false. The shenanigans occurred; in their midst, came the cave. Thankfully it came early this time, but in the future we want no shenanigans.Report

      • I guess that’s where we disagree. In my mind, this was sufficiently early in the process that real trouble was actually averted.

        As it stands, the Tea Party is making noise about replacing him with with someone more like-minded. Which I don’t think the crowers should actually want. But the taunting here is strengthening the case for Boehner’s removal. It’s only good for anti-Republicans insofar as the Republicans do themselves more harm by doing the nation harm.

        Fortunately, I think think that the GOP caucus doesn’t have a suicide wish and Boehner will stick around or be replaced by somebody that would similarly defer such battles. But the response to here, if it does anything, hurts rather than helps. If I’m wrong about that, it will hurt a great deal. If we’re worried about such things as future shutdowns.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        Boehner will stick around or be replaced by somebody that would similarly defer such battles

        This is basically 100%, and in any case, I’m not concerned about the role of outside taunting in swaying that outcome. At all.

        You have a fair point about the stage of the process, though. To me, it looks like he looked to enact a round of fake concession seeking, but found he couldn’t because of divisions in what to demand. To me, that’s more than enough shenanigans to want to continue to deter them, not praise him for averting them. But I acknowledge that others see this more as decisive action against debt-ceiling chicken. I think I’m right, but it’s a pretty close matter. I would kind of hope we could allow the differing interpretations and hence the differing reactions, rather than writing posts calling on liberals to congratulate Boehner for only letting the process get to the stage that it did this time rather than farther, or at least refraining from criticizing or mocking him for his playing coy about the question and his inability to effect any action other than the inevitable capitulation. We have good reason to demand clarity that no more of this is coming, and this round gave us no such clarity. To me, it seems clear that being fairly merciless with him about his bad decisions on this score is what will lead to his finally saying enough is enough. I hardly see how praising him for doing what he did this tie around will get him to be even clearer that there will be no demands for concessions next time. And that’s what would be by far the best for the country at this point.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

        Are people calling for him to be praised by democrats? That’d be pretty silly if that were the case!Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        Yes, I’d say that’s more or less what the OP and a number of commenters are calling for. And yes, it’s silly.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        …Also, I didn’t say democrats (or Democrats), I said liberals.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Does “Thanks, ‘preciate it” qualify as praise? If so, ok, but it doesn’t exactly mean you’re falling all over yourself to fawn over the guy.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

        I got the idea that the OP (and others) were saying “Jeez Louise, can’t you keep your yap shut?”

        Is this one of those “progressive” things where failure to criticize is the equivalent of praise, the same way that failure to subsidize is a ban?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        Are people calling for him to be praised by democrats? That’d be pretty silly if that were the case!

        I think it’s a call to ease up on excessively harsh partisan language. Apparently, the word “cave” is loaded with a bunch of negative connotations. It’s derisive. Even when liberals use it to describe Democrats, I guess.

        Or maybe it’s a call to use the word correctly dammit.

        I dunno.Report

      • This is basically 100%, and in any case, I’m not concerned about the role of outside taunting in swaying that outcome. At all.

        Not 100% at all. Not even close. Boehner doesn’t really have the support of a majority of his caucus. That’s a pretty perilous situation. And it’s likely not Denny Hastert waiting in the wings. It’s probably not even Cantor because if Boehner is tossed it’s not a job that he would probably want. The perception won’t be that he lost out because he made a feint whiff of a threat (if that), it’ll be because he “caved.” So the solution would be someone who wouldn’t cave. A Louie Gohlmert who would more than happily “stand his ground” and then crash and burn (quite possibly taking the country’s economic situation) with him, then making millions of dollars selling books as The Republican Who Refused To Stand Down.

        Is that likely? No. But it’s far more than 0%. At this point, the stronger Boehner is the better for everyone who isn’t Gohlmert (or somebody like him).
        And no, that doesn’t mean that a parade is expected. I don’t think that’s at all what Tod was advocating. I think what he was advocating was “don’t taunt.” We’re pushing back not against “I don’t want to throw the guy a parade” but against “Yes taunt.”

        Someone else suggested “folding” rather than “caving” which I believe is not only more accurate, but would likely have sidestepped this debate. Only Tod can answer that for sure, but I would probably be on the other side of this debate if he took that stance.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        Whoever replaces Boehner will not be inclined to deal with this stuff significantly differently from him, and he’s not going to be replaced all that soon anyway. Take that to the bank. But the way for him to be inclined to deal with it slightly more positively is by seeing the example of Boehner handling it poorly as a cautionary tale. This was still handling it poorly (that’s where we can disagree). In any case Democrats certainly didn’t want him floating stories of looking around for ways to attach concessions to it, finding he couldn’t, and backing off. That’s not good enough – it needs to be explicitly taken off the table well ahead of each time the debt ceiling is hit if not made automatic – and so the idea he did what they want is a red herring. At the very least, it ought to be, because it really isn’t good enough – it shouldn’t be Dems’ or liberals position that it is.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        would it have killed them (and other liberals) to at the very least keep their yaps shut on that rarest of occasions: Congress actually doing its fishing job?

        This clearly implies that, while the very least they should do is keep their yaps shut (a weird thing to call on journalists like Josh Marshall, who almost certainly chose “cave” because it just seems like the clearest way to describe what happened in a headline, which perhaps is wrong but is almost certainly not calculated or meant as withering criticism), at best they’d be giving some significant credit to Congress (Boehner) for “doing its job” (which apparently involves mulling ways to further muck with the economy by yet again unsettling markets with demands around the debt ceiling but ultimately concluding there’s no viable way to do that mucking this time, rather than just taking that table off the table pre-emptively, which is an option always at hand). If you want to split hairs about whether that would constitute praise, fine. I don’t care.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

        If you want to split hairs about whether that would constitute praise, fine.

        I think I’m more interested in whether something constitutes taunting and, from there, how that might be something worth avoiding.

        Now if you want to split hairs about whether that would constitute praise, fine.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Josh Marshall went to Princeton and had SATs over 1500, so when you call him a taunter it’s obviously all about anti-Semitism.Report

      • I don’t fully disagree with the notion that he handled this poorly. I disagree with the notion that the perception of why he handled it poorly involved the desire for a concession instead of the word “cave” and the weakness that implies. And what his successor might seek to avoid.

        In all likelihood, he stays. Next best option, he just gets sick of it and resigns in which case there’s a decent chance he will be replaced with someone less than revolutionary. But the guy does not have the support of his caucus. He is the weakest Speaker of the House in living memory. Somebody like that simply isn’t secure in his position.

        But I think our biggest disagreement is the message that you think they will get from taunts, that I don’t think they will. At best, it will have no effect. If it has an effect, it will be a bad one. The last time the word “cave” was used, it was in reference to Cruz and the suicide caucus. Not it’s in reference to Boehner. That’s not a positive development.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

        I keep mis-calibrating my anti-feminist criticisms.Report

  4. Anyone doing a my-team-right-or-wrong sort of thing is doing it wrong. Part of me hates politics and part of me pities every single partisan.

    (Well, actually, all of me might hate politics.)Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    One of the interesting things, to me, is how the sides have goaded one another. Republicans started it by dancing over Obama as Obama made some budgetary concessions. That understandably lead to Obama’s decision to stop being as versatile in his negotiations. Flash forward to a little while later and Obama and Boehner came up with a deal and a lot of liberals were quickly turning around dancing about how they pwned the Republicans on cuts that were virtually non-existent, stripping Boehner of all credibility and leaving him completely unable to prevent the shutdown that eventually occurred (especially when the sequester actually seemed kinda successful, lending credibility to the Tea Party).

    That said, I still disagree with this:

    But I think it’s yet another scrap of anecdotal evidence that U.S. liberals are slowly remaking themselves in the right’s Ratings-First-Governance-Last image

    They poke the bear sometimes, but I don’t see them becoming the bear.Report

  6. Avatar NoPublic says:

    I don’t see why you’re so troubled by that framing. For a long time the red team has refused to govern and chosen instead to throw their wooden shoes in the works of our nation’s legislative apparatus. Their titular leader has now moved from that behavioural pattern. The fact that he and his party have held a hard opposing line on this particular issue for a great deal of time and he has now moved to a position favoured by his opposition can IMNSHO be framed as “caving”. You noted as much, saying:

    And Marshall’s crew has been waiting, what, six years now for Boehner to behave like a professional adult and not a Fox/Talk radio fanboy?

    It’s not flattering but it’s not like it’s coming from nowhere.Report

  7. Avatar morat20 says:

    Yeah, I think you’re overreading it. To be kind.

    The fact that the end result is ‘good’ from a non-partisan standpoint (and frankly even for Republicans, who I don’t believe really need another pointless debt ceiling slapfight — their favorables are already bad enough) doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘cave’.

    Boehner’s position today is a complete repudiation of his position a week ago (wherein he would use the debt ceiling to extract some concessions, like the risk corridor thing) and even from 24 hours ago (wherein it’d be something something disability for vets something).

    It’s, furthermore, against his own caucus. It might truly be the best solution, even if his caucus doesn’t believe it, but that doesn’t mean his entire stance hasn’t just collapsed and him ending up doing exactly what he said he wouldn’t.Report

  8. Avatar zic says:

    Nice post, Tod. I sort of live in dread, well fed by the constant barrage of fear-monger fund raising emails I get from Democratic Party Operatives, that the party is turning into it’s own fears.

    So I welcome it when Dems are called out for spurious behavior.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I saw a Breitbart piece that started with:
    “Speaker John Boehner will bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the floor Wednesday, marking the end of an era in which House Republicans sought spending cuts and reforms in equal or greater amount to the increase in the debt ceiling.”

    When I asked via the comments when this era began and how it came to be, I got crickets.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I think it’s fair to say that Obama won and Boehner lost. Or, really, that the Republicans lost. But describing Boehner’s acceptance of his defeat as “caving” is a word choice–and it’s indisputably a choice–that demonstrates a need to go beyond rejoicing in victory to taunting the opponent. No doubt taunting feels good, but there’s a reason the NFL makes it a personal foul.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      Lessons need to be lastingly engraved on some actors’ brains here. There should be taunting. If it were a victory over a constructive policy disagreement, then I’d be with you. But lasting lessons need to be impressed on this one.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        In communication, we always have to distinguish between the intended message and the received message. Are you sure the message you intend to send by taunting is really the message received by the target? Because it seems to me that the message most likely to be received is, “Taunter is a fishing ashhole.” If that’s the message you intended, then all is good…I guess.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        They’re far over that bridge. But I would prefer effective methods to make them regret this tactic over ineffective or counterproductive ones. But I’m not sure which those are and I’m all good with trial-and-error to try to find out. Let’s get started!Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @michael-drew : “Lessons need to be lastingly engraved on some actors’ brains here. There should be taunting. If it were a victory over a constructive policy disagreement, then I’d be with you. But lasting lessons need to be impressed on this one.”

        Yeah, this is kind of what I meant about liberals learning the ways of the right. Of course it isn’t fun to have to always be one of the grown ups in the room that has so many children, but it doesn’t mean that you need grownups. And unlike what the tea party/GOP think, the government actually exists to govern — not as a reason to call press conferences.

        I swear to God, liberals’ current belief that the largely correct “false equivalance” argument justifies any old behavior is going to be their (totally unnecessary) downfall.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Well, I’d expect that trial and error based on some well-founded theory is probably better than random trial and error based on a desire to beat one’s chest. But maybe that’s just me.

        Honestly, each bit of pushback to the OP that I’m seeing reads just like adolescent dick-shaking.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        …Also, let’s put it this way, JH: the taunting among the factions in the halls of the GOP right now are 100% sure to be far, far more severe than whatever Dems throw at them publicly. There are GOP actors trying to impress these lessons on some in their ranks using the method of taunting even as we speak.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’m not sure I agree with that. If the lesson you learn from giving up crazy positions is that the crazy people hate you and the sane people don’t respect you any more, there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose from repudiating the crazies. I really believed that during the last debt ceiling fight, the people in charge needed to lose badly and publicly to learn a lesson. It looks like they did. Good enough for me.

        Now if we can just keep this up long enough for future Speakers to forget that the Hastert Rule was ever a thing, we may actually return some sanity to the system. It’s no good to have a sane house leadership when every bill has to win the approval of the council of fringe lunatics who run your craziest wing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I remember when I got pushback about applauding GOP leadership who criticized one of their own for using “wetback” and another slur. We (rightfully) criticized the GOP for circling the wagons regardless of the crime. When they behaved properly, it only seemed right to acknowledge it. Some folks thought we should have piled on more criticism because it took them so long to get it. And while I hope they weren’t acting solely to get accolades, give credit where credit is due.Report

      • As is frequently the case, @troublesome-frog speaks sense.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        When they act properly with regard to the debt ceiling, Kazzy, I will given them proper due. That did not happen here.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Michael Drew says:


        We (rightfully) criticized the GOP for circling the wagons regardless of the crime. When they behaved properly, it only seemed right to acknowledge it.

        Well put. I try to apply this rule to most things: If you’re more angry when X increases and but not less angry when X decreases, either we have a perfect amount of X or your anger is not really about X. I am happy for this decrease in dangerous bullshit, even if the ideal quantity of dangerous bullshit is zero.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        TF, I am (relatively) happy, too (though not as happy as if there had never been such threats, or if promises were on offer that there won’t be any more). That doesn’t determine what the best course of action is however. Just because you are happy doesn’t mean you have to seek to communicate happiness.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Of course he was. Enough of his caucus wanted a discussion on the penalty for raising the debt ceiling that he had to have those conversations.

        And at the end, he opted to offer a clean bill, because with D votes, it would pass.

        I wouldn’t expect him to ignore his party and its fringe; if they had enough support to offer an set of strings, a clean bill wouldn’t be likely to pass, anyway. That’s the dance of partisan politics; he went through the motions, and no one limit, immigration, keystone, or even Veteran COLAs had enough votes to win.Report

    • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

      I dunno. After dying on this hill twice before, and being pushed up the hill for a third go before saying “Screw it”, I think pretty strong language is proper.

      If only to point out that, really, we’ve been having this fight for three years now and it appears, finally, the lesson “This is not a winnable fight” has sunk in.

      I don’t think it’s so much spiking the ball as describing the fact that a giant, stupid, painful slap-fight has finally died not with a bang, but a whimper.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

        See my response to Michael Drew above. I think you’re demonstrating that the main goal is to express your feelings, rather than to encourage further responsible decision-making on Boehner’s part. It’s self-indulgent, no more adult and responsible than Boehner’s prior demands vis a vis the debt ceiling.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        The main goal of saying that they caved is to describe what happened.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

        That’s bullshit on a lollipop, Michael. There’s a number of words and phrases one could use to describe what happened. Which one you choose reveals how you want to describe it.

        Don’t be one of the frothing-at-the-mouth partisans, Michael. You’re too intelligent for that.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        The idea that thinking that calling this a cave is the most accurate way to describe it requires someone to be a partisan frothing doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. It was a cave.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        …Or a frothing partisan!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

        If you don’t buy it, then buy what Troublesome Frog is selling.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        TF has a plausible take, but hardly a definitive one. It all depends what kinds of incentives we think these people will respond to with what kind of responses. I don;t think that kind of positive reinforcement in this case will get us where we need to go on this, but I don’t dismiss TF’s take (it’s also possible he doesn’t want to go where I want to go). You could also take a sample of what I’m selling by acknowledging that there’s no way to be so sure I’m wrong about what incentives and lessons can be learned here, and how. Why do I have any more reason to buy what TF is selling than you do to take a sample of what I am?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

        I’ll say this, and cede the field: probably the least partisan participants in this thread are Tod, Will, Troublesome Frog, and me, and those least partisan participants are saying something different than what the liberals here are saying. It looks to me as though Tod called it right in his first sentence, and you being a partisan are not well-positioned to claim partisanship isn’t a factor.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        “The main goal of saying that they caved is to describe what happened.”

        I think we have a different definition of caving. You make it sound as if just because someone says they might do something, they are caving if they don’t end up doing it.

        By this logic, the Rs are right, and Obama totally caved in to Syria and Iran because he didn’t follow through on every idea he floated on what he might do to them.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        Where did I claim that partisanship isn’t a factor?

        And what does prove that Tod predicted that liberals would object? The next words could have been, “Roe was wrongly decided and should be overturned, and every state should pass a ban on all abortions.” The whole discussion only hinges on what the words then go on to say. He went on to say things that don’t really hold up, i.e. that because Democrats would have preferred for there to have been no debt ceiling threats, it’s therefore not the case that this debt ceiling threat was made, and then quickly caved on. That’s just wrong, so liberals objected. Big whoop.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        Obama said there would be consequences for chemical weapons use. Those consequences turned out to be somewhat credible threats of force. Those threats of force were leveraged into concessions on Syria’s chemical weapons.

        Boehner implicitly threatened default in 2011. We didn’t default, but he gained concessions. No one says he caved that year.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        He actually did more that say there would be “serious consequences;” he said there would we would strike with the military. In fact, he said we “absolutely” would.

        So I ask again, did Obama cave to Syria?

        Or is caving usually reserved for something different than floating an idea and not acting on it?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        @michael-drew : “And what does prove that Tod predicted that liberals would object? … That’s just wrong, so liberals objected. Big whoop.”

        FWIW, when I wrote that, I was thinking of the time I wrote a post on the importance of holding your own side’s pols accountable when they are found to be corrupt or incompetent, and the unexpected response I got from a lot of the liberals here.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to morat20 says:

        @michael-drew can you provide a link for this absolute?

        Because I posted one a few days ago; and that said the House GOP were discussing it; but there was nothing absolute. A conversation about how to govern and actions actually taken are not the same thing.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        Did Boehner cave in 2011 since he threatened not to raise the debt limit except with certain but did after concessions that were less than what he was asking?

        Caving is when you come away with nothing, or so close to nothing that people say, “He caved.” And Boehner caved. If Boehner didn’t cave here, then who has ever caved?, would be my question.

        If it’s so important to you to say that if Boehner caved here, then Obama caved on Syria despite the obvious differences, though, I’m perfectly happy to say that Obama caved on his threats to strike Syria in retaliation for using chemical weapons, yes. It’s a cave for which he got a lot in return compared to what I usually think of as a cave, but, sure. It’s also a cave I wouldn’t want to taunt him for, since I certainly do think that threatening punitive military action for transgressions of norms like that is something that I’d like presidents to have in their arsenal, unlike debt ceiling threats. But for those who would want to try to teach presidents never to make such threats, if they think it’s inevitable that they’ll always cave (which it isn’t), then I’ve got no problem with taunting them for electing a strategy that’s so doomed to humiliation.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        No. “Caving” suggests a position of power that you relinquish.


        When I tell my 15 year old son there will be consequences if he does X after he told me he planned on doing X, his not doing “X” is not “caving.” My 15 year old son doesn’t “cave” in to my demands, because he holds no power. On the other hand, I have (on more than one occasion) caved in to my son’s demands. I *can* cave, because I am the one in power, and I relinquished it.

        Boehner had no power – even in his own house. That he chose not to go down a stupid, un-winnable road is not “caving,” unless we’re going to agree here and now that “caving” is somehow synonymous with “wisdom.”

        This idea that anyone who says they are going to try to do something and then decides not to is “caving” is silly.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to morat20 says:


        We’re talking now. 2014. Here’s the kind of reporting I find on the debt-ceiling discussions in the House:

        I don’t see a promise here by the Speaker; if you can find one, I’d be happy to reconsider.

        For the moment, Boehner is playing his cards carefully, keeping tabs on the informal whip count for potential debt-limit solutions in his office and checking in with backbench Republicans, tea-party favorites and committee chairmen about what option could garner a bevy of GOP votes without causing too much unrest among the House’s conservative bloc.

        I’m not a fan, I’m a liberal and registered D. But I cannot criticize his handling of this. I’d praise it.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:


        This link reports that he had been trying to find votes for a plan that would attach a condition to the debt-ceiling increase. So he was seeking to create that threat; then he caved. Or, perhaps, gave up on it.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to morat20 says:

        But the speaker of the house does have power. We have seen a demonstration of that power in action. Not many people liked it, including many in his own party. He may not be willing to use his power, or doing so may carry a cost higher than he prefers to pay, but he does not lack power.

        nevertheless, I’m not going to call this caving in. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling is a threat to destroy things that will achieve no purpose if it is done. I’m going to call it a recognition that this particular maneuver is ineffective and counterproductive. Whether that is strategy, tactics, or governance, it’s good to see that it’s not going to happen again.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        I don’t think a vast power differential is necessary for caving. If we’re negotiating over something with no real reason to think you will win out over me, and then Ijust give you everything you want, that’s a cave.

        I will back off to some extent now, however, because of the point zic is making: it may never have been so clear that Boehner wanted to try to extract concessions this time. The behavior I’m, seeking, however is an explicit disavowal of these tactics, which keeping one’s options open about what to maybe demand in exchange for the debt ceiling increase is manifestly not doing.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

        According to TPM, though, they were asking for something they were going to get anyway. They just wanted to get something they could say was a concession:

        The military cost-of-living adjustments in the Ryan-Murray budget deal could be undone at a later date. A standalone bill to do just that moved forward in the Senate by a vote of 94-0 on Monday. The only question is whether that’ll happen in conjunction with — or independently from — raising the country’s borrowing authority.

        Unless there is something more, this threat was so ridiculously weak and cosmetic that it’s pretty hard to take seriously.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        @michael-drew I didn’t say you needed a vast difference in power; just that you needed to be in a position of power. In fact, “caving in” is usually used in stalemates.

        But until this thread, I have never heard the word “caving” being used to describe not playing an unwinnable hand.

        @burt-likko When you don’t even have the votes in the one house your party controls, I don’t know that you have all that much power over a situation, even if you are the speaker.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        @burt-likko : “Whether that is strategy, tactics, or governance, it’s good to see that it’s not going to happen again.”

        Fingers crossed. TO be honest, I’ll breath a little easier on that after I see the TP fail to oust him for doing this.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        Fair enough. The impression was created for me that there was an intent to attach concessions to a debt ceiling increase, which is playing the hand of demanding concessions, whereupon he found he couldn’t even muster up the cards to bluff properly, whereupon he folded. But I can accept zic’s view that he he was just going through the necessary motions on the way to a certain default to passing the clean increase. But if the votes had been there for some concession or tother, I think that would have passed, whereupon the switch to the clean increase would have been a cave. So he sort of lucked out of it. Or maybe he never was going to bring a bill like that to a vote this time.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

        Power is generally defined as the ability to get one’s way, or to get others to do what one wants them to do.

        In the U.S., with its weak party structure, the Speaker of the House has quite limited power. Most of it lies in the timing of votes and control of the Rules Committee, which sets the rules of floor debate (how much time there will be for debate, whether amendments can be offered, and how many). The power to push through bills with little support from his/her party? Not really, since s/he doesn’t have the institutional tools to exert significant control over legislators who are primarily accountable to their district constituents.

        And of course he only “controls” one half of Congress, with no authority to command the Senate.

        The Speaker has influence, certainly, but surprisingly little power.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

        whereupon he folded

        Folded is a good term; a poker term, a strategic one. When a poker play tries a bluff and it’s not going good, we don’t criticize them for caving; we recognize that folding was smart, their best strategic move.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:

        I’d say that if the intention to at least pose as holding out for concessions (again!) was real (and I think it was before he realized there weren’t the votes for any one demand) and was signaled, which I think it was via leaks, then once he was forced to fold, that was a cave. Sometimes you cave because you lose your nerve; other times you cave because you find you can’t even muster the resources to keep playing your hand. To me, those are both caves of different sorts, though i acknowledge that interpretation doesn’t have to be everyone’s (what’s the big deal about whether this does or doesn’t get called a cave anyway, by the way? For me not much – as I say, whether it’s a cave or not, there’s plenty for here Dems to hold up for the public as a complete disaster that Republicans shouldn’t want to continue in the future. That’s the important point.) I don’t think, in other words, that these were elective moves, but forced moves – Boehner still took it, and would have taken it, as far as he could (I could be wrong about that). The lesson was still no learned. I.e., he may have figured out how to avoid doing maximum damage while making a bad bluff (which all debt-ceiling bluffs are), but there’s no reason we should call that smart. Smart would be heading off these bluffs way before anyone thinks you might entertain them. Because entertaining them hurts both you (Boehner or his successors) and the country.

        So to me, we would want to praise him when he figures that out, but continue to make him feel, and others see, the pain of his folly as long as he doesn’t. that’s how politicians learn lessons – by allowing their own (political) lives, and those of others, to be their teachable moment, with amplification from opposition-stoked public reaction to their travails.Report

  11. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Don’t follow TPM super closely, but I do recall reading an article there a week-ten days ago about hoe Boehner had at that time said he was in fact going to hold the debt-ceiling hostage. Again. So it seems to me that if he had said he would, and had an intention to do so, but reversed course because of political pressure, then “caving” is a pretty good word to describe it. It’s a pretty blatant reversal. (If I’m remembering the earlier article correctly.)

    The term “good governing” would apply in this case, it seems to me, if he either refused to hold the debt limit hostage (this time) out of principle, or had made his decision to not take hostages without first floating (are indicating) his intention to do so.

    Either way, it seems like bad governance on Boehner’s part. And from where I’m sitting, it’s pretty clearly a cave. The GOP ends up looking better on this than Boehner, which is saying something.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

      Not sure about the last assessment, but otherwise: exactly.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Well, fair enough, but in at least one sense the House GOP as a whole looks better than Boehner on this since as a group they’re done with hostage taking. This time. As for Boehner, he has an amazing ability to walk the political plank only to find the his bros – the House GOP – are very willing to leave him hanging there. I can’t remember a speaker so out of touch with and unable to lead his own party.Report

    • Meh. This may make sense only to me, but in poker terms there’s a world of difference between making nominally position raising in hopes of stealing the blinds and re-raising the blinds to push them all-in when they come back on top of your position raise. The former is something that you do as a matter of course even if you’ve got a crap hand, but the latter is a good way to make everyone at the table miserable until someone calls your insane bet and busts you out.

      Boehner in this case was just making the standard position raise, much as opposing parties have done for a long time- he made a small bluff in the hopes of stealing the blinds or getting a nice flop, got called and folded just like he planned the second he made the position raise. As i said, that sort of bluff has been standard for a long time on the debt limit issue, since well before the Tea Party came to town: you try to attach a demand to the debt ceiling, see if you can get anything without much of a fight, and if the other side pushes back, you fold.

      The Tea Party turned that notion on it’s head, thinking that if it made the stakes high enough, it would win everything it wanted every time, regardless of whether it meant the game (or in this case, the good faith and credit of the US) would break up. It even worked the first time they tried it; thing is, the more you try this strategy, the less effective it is and the less tolerable the game becomes for everyone. And eventually, you even get called when you push all in and the other guy has a good hand. That’s what happened last fall – after getting called on the initial bet, the Tea Party thought it would be a good idea to push all-in holding 2-7 and a flop of AAK. Needless to say, they busted out – to everyone’s benefit except their own. Now Boehner doesn’t have to play their game anymore and can go back to playing the game that everyone’s familiar with. Which actually is good governance of a fashion – it’s representing your constituency without destroying the rest of the country.Report

      • Shorter me: the Tea Party is the a-hole at the poker table who thinks he’s awesome because he keeps stealing the blinds with absurdly large bets, when in reality he’s just an a-hole who’s not very good at poker and will either bust out himself when he finally gets called or will make the game so unpleasant for everyone else that the game breaks up before he gets a chance to win anything of significance.

        Boehner and his pals are just grinders who want to keep the game going.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        So, he engaged in a bit of gentlemanly blind stealing?

        “I’m gonna raise. I’m just trying to steal your blinds, tho, I don’t have anything. Can I them?”

        “Of course not.”

        Of course, the analogy breaks down a bit because in poker you actually have to re-raise to defend your blinds, which escalates the risk. In this case, either Boehner never raised (just hemmed and hawed a bit) or he did raise – by signalling earlier that he was gonna put the debt-ceiling back on the rack.

        I’m of a mind – given the evidence I have, which isn’t nearly all of it – that he made the raise, the Dems called and it never even went to showdown. He just folded preflop. I don’t see how that’s good governance.Report

      • The “raise” here was so pathetically weak (“I want you pass a bill y’all plan to pass anyway, except pass it as part of this, so that way it will look like a concession…”) that it hardly qualifies, if at all. Even TPM called what Boehner was asking for “as bipartisan as it comes.”Report

      • What Boehner did here was the equivalent of making the minimum raise out of the small blind (because he had crap in his hand), getting reraised significantly by the big blind, and then folding because he saw that he was up against a big pocket pair and he didn’t want to get pot committed.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Boehner in this case was just making the standard position raise, much as opposing parties have done for a long time- he made a small bluff in the hopes of stealing the blinds or getting a nice flop, got called and folded just like he planned the second he made the position raise.

        Now Boehner doesn’t have to play their game anymore and can go back to playing the game that everyone’s familiar with.

        After the preceding three years, though, no one feels the same about that status-quo ante. It’s no longer tolerable, and shouldn’t be. That’s the key point, why pressing the depth of the political mistake that pushing the debt ceiling game to where it no longer was a game was. It can’t be played anymore. The way to get actors to see it this way is to impress the magnitude of their losses on them. I think a very viable way to do that is through making fun of them publicly. People are saying that will not have the desired effect and have other negative effects. I haven’t heard a convincing account of the negative effects, and haven’t seen a viable alternative that would be more effective offered.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        So if TPM calls it that, then why do some of us think Josh means anything other than fold when they use the word “cave”? I mean, the OP makes the argument that using the word “cave” here is equivalent to the worst excesses of TP and GOP rhetoric.

        I just don’t see it that way. The word “cave” is perfectly descriptive without any associated negative connotations,even tho the term can be used to express them.

        I mean, the OP could have presented an argument that given the facts in all of this – that the bet was ridiculous, that the hand was incredibly weak, that the pot was bipartisan – the word “cave” doesn’t really apply.

        But the point of the OP is that using the word “cave” to describe what Boehner did was an attempt to “‘[remake] themselves in the right’s Ratings-First-Governance-Last image.”

        Personally speaking, I had no idea that “cave” was such a politically loaded term. I’m also surprised to learn that liberals believe it really is.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Just by the by, talking about poker will never get us to where we’ve figured out what caving means. It’s not a poker term.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Mark, I think we’re just gonna have to disagree about this. My view is that he already knew he was up against a big pocket pair, but he thought his holdings were strong enough to at least gambool by seeing a flop. When he got re-raised, tho, he reconsidered, realizing that the odds were already against him and playing for a big pot was the wrong move. He was close to getting pot committed preflop, even by calling. So he folded. Preflop.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        It’s like SW and I share a brain on this. The “caved” thing is being massively overinterpreted. I’m happy to argue for taunting the GOP, the TP, and Boehner (in that order) over this, but that term in that place just wasn’t an example of it.

        Josh Marshall (or whoever) chose the term casually, because it seemed like the clearest statement of what happened. It was not as deliberate or thought out as all this. They could have said “folded,” but I’m fairly sure the consideration is that that’s just weirder, more stylized, less idiomatic word for what happened. “Gave up” sounds too colloquial and inexact. Moreover, would using those terms have really satisficed? Tod called for them to shut their yap. Well, they were going to report it, write headlines. Could they have said, “In Impressive Show of Leaderhip, Boehner Heads of Hardliner Push For Concessions”? Sure. (Would that have been accurate? Unlcear.) “Boehner Folds” gets it done, though. From there, read the reporting.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Been reading thru the TPM archives to find that article I mentioned earlier (the one I’m basing my whole poker analogy on!) where Boehner signalled that a clean bill debt-limit bill was off the table. It’s here, posted January 22. There’s no mention of what particular type of dirt was to be included, tho.

        Oh, it’s not really worth arguing about anymore.

        {{Except the “cave” business. That strikes me as really odd.}}Report

    • I’m less interested in whether it’s appropriate to call it “caving” than I am in whether it’s good governance, bad governance, or at least adequate governance. I was thus mostly objecting to Stillwater’s suggestion that it was another episode of bad governance, and definitely not good governance. I think it’s at least an example of adequate governance and at least arguably one of good governance.

      For the record, I don’t have a problem with liberals gloating over this or calling it a “cave,” though I personally wouldn’t define it as such (to me, caving requires giving up on something you were doggedly fighting over, rather than making a long-planned retreat). I tend to agree with Tod that there are growing seeds of craziness on the left, but disagree that this is an example of that, and in any event don’t think the seeds of liberal crazy will mature into a real problem for liberals for another decade or so – I firmly believe that, to the extent conservatism is where liberalism was at in the late 70s/early 80s, liberalism is roughly where conservatism was in the late 70s/early 80s.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I pretty much agree on all counts. I’d just say that if you’re willing to pose as fighting for something you intend to retreat on, you’re essentially inviting people to say you caved. You were, after all, posing as fighting for it. Your calculation is that some other benefit outweighs that. So when people call it a cave, I don’t see where there’s much cause for complaint; that’s what you signed up for.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        …Er, actually I skimmed the first paragraph after you said you don’t care so much what we call it but what it is, and missed where you said this was okay governance. I disagree that this was adequate governance – it was only somewhat better than previous episodes, not nearly adequate, and only better because there wasn’t a viable path toward progressing much as previous episodes did. But other than THAT, I mostly agree…Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Yes, Michael. That’s why I think it’s not an example of good governance. {{I’m also pretty sure doggone sure it doesn’t constitute adequate governance, but some of that could be defeated depending on how Mark defines those terms.}}Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        True. We’re all still alive, so far…Report

      • Boehner’s actions in this particular instance constitute good governance in my book because he did exactly what a Speaker is supposed to do: he tried to advance his caucus’ interests, goals, and beliefs about good governance to the greatest extent possible without risking widespread harm to the entire country. Liberals may not share those interests, goals or beliefs, but that does not make them illegitimate, and Boehner has a duty to at least try to advance those interests, goals, and beliefs whenever he can. That he ultimately failed to put together a bill that did anything on those fronts is not an indictment – there’s no harm in at least asking, and if we’re being honesAnd a good chunk of the stuff he was trying to get thrown into the bill would have been acceptable to most -but by no means all- Democrats; the problem was that there was nothing that any significant number of Democrats would conceivably support that would be acceptable to the GOP Suicide Caucus. And everything I’m aware of indicates that he made clear throughout that he would not allow a default regardless of whether he had the support of most of his caucus. So, unable to cobble together a realistic bill that would in any manner advance his core constituencies’ interests, goals, and beliefs (other than raise the debt ceiling itself – remember that Boehner’s most important constituency is Wall St.), Boehner sucked it up and passed an entirely clean bill over the objections of almost 90 percent of his caucus. Hastert Rule or no, I struggle to think of any significant bills in history that reached and passed the House floor despite the official opposition of nearly 90 percent of the Speaker’s party. That’s essentially the definition of good governance- try to advance your constituents’ interests as much as possible without screwing the entire country, and if you can’t advance your contituents’ interests, just make sure you don’t screw the country even if that means overruling the overwhelming majority of your caucus.

        The overall process was, in my view, adequate governance, albeit not what I would call good governance. By this I mean that it’s fairly clear that a lot more than 28 House Republicans believed that passing the clean bill was the right thing to do, but a lot voted against it nonetheless as long as it was clear that it would pass. That is far from admirable, but ultimately, all that matters is that the bill passes, not the margin it passes by. Congress critters cynically voting against bills they support or for bills they oppose because they know that their vote won’t make a difference is hardly a new thing. Using such votes for political cover is the height of cowardice, but it’s ultimately of mostly symbolic importance as long as it doesn’t affect a bill’s passage or rejection.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Speakers are in most situations quite beholden to the desires of their caucuses. I don’t think it goes far enough to say that their job is just to facilitate those desires unless and until it starts to “screw” the country, if we are going to say that merely doing the job in itself constitutes good governance. Either the job has to be more – encompass a greater assessment of the public good beyond just acting to further the caucus’ interests, or the simply doing job itself conceived that way can fall significantly short of good governance. Good governance here, whether within a better definition of what the Speaker’s role should be or as a requirement necessary for providing good governance that is above and beyond simply discharging the duties of Speaker, would have at least involved making the explicit argument to the caucus from the outset about why these tactics were destructive from the start, a strategic mistake for the caucus, and politically unsupportable in an election year. In my opinion, obviously. Sure, that’s a substantive view that he and his caucus don’t share, but how can one have coherent notion of good governance that is entirely devoid of substantive governing content? With that, you end up with definitions of good government that require of actors that they merely respond rationally to pressures they in most cases face as a matter of course. In my view, at best that is a condition that is merely sometimes consistent withadequate governance, not sufficient for good governance. God government will usually involve successfully contending with typical pressures, and adequate governance oftentimes will, when the pressures the official face tend in a destructive direction. Mere adequacy requires at least identifying and attempting to counteract those pressures when they are destructive (as here) (good governance would require successfully counteracting them), and is not satisfied by making every effort to facilitate them and only abandoning said efforts when all avenues to pursuing a substantive course of action they lead to turn out to be blocked.Report

      • @michael-drew I think the disconnect here is that you’re assuming that Boehner doesn’t believe his constituency’s (which goes beyond his specific caucus) goals and interests are also in the best interests of the nation. But when he looks for concessions, he’s not merely trying to get chits to benefit his constituencies, he’s trying to get concessions that people on his side (and presumably, he as well) think are in the best interests of the nation, if of clearly lower import than avoiding default. As Speaker, he has an obligation to try to advance that vision of good governance as much as possible even if liberals don’t like that vision.

        In terms of what you’re saying he should have done, I’m far from certain that he didn’t do exactly that (or at least the functional equivalent thereof). Boehner’s problem for awhile has been that he has no influence over the TPers- keep in mind, he had to survive a coup last year largely because he had the gall to allow a vote on Sandy relief.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        A big plus one to that first paragraph, Mark. A big subtext in this discussion is the assumption that GOP goals hurt the country, or at least that the tactics hurt the country. Which is possible, of course, and certainly seem clearly true from a liberal perspective. But the implication that the Republicans must know the harm they’re causing…that doesn’t follow.

        And even if you look at something like the shutdown, which had a measurable economic impact, so can fairly be claimed to have harmed the country, you also have to look at what someone is attempting to gain. Every good outcome comes with a cost, so focusing just on the cost doesn’t tell us what a person’s benefit-cost analysis is. Many conservatives truly believe the shutdown would be a reasonable cost to pay for reducing the country’s spending, because they believe lower spending would not only have it’s own normative value and because they believe gov’t spending (some of it, anyway) is counterproductive to longterm economic growth–that is, they believe there is no net harm.

        I’m not asking liberals to agree with those beliefs. It’s perfectly legitimate to say “they’re wrong, and here’s why.” But to say “they’re willing to harm the country” implies conscious intent to do harm.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Everyone’s willing to harm the country. Short term, long term, everything comes with costs. We don’t elect folks to be good, we elect them to get things right.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I think there are lots of subtexts to this, but I’m also starting to think there’s lots of confusion about what’s being disputed. For example, in the above, Mark says that the action of putting a clean bill before the House for a vote is an act of good governance (this is what Tod was picking up on in the OP, if I understand it right). He also says that the process of signalling that a clean bill won’t make it to the floor at T1 and reversing course on that at T2 is an act of good governance. Finally, there is the idea that what constitutes good governance will be determined with respect to the goals a person is trying to achieve.

        Notice that given the different views on this stuff, it’s possible to say that the action of putting a clean bill on the debt ceiling could be both an act of good governance as well as a cave. (One applies to only the outcome of a process, the other applies to the process itself). What Michael and I have been focusing on in this thread – via the analogies to poker that Mark elaborated on – is the process whereby the final decision to put a clean bill up for vote was arrived at. We’re calling that process bad governance. Mark is calling that process good governance. We’re calling that process including the outcome (perhaps mistakenly) a cave, Mark is rejecting that it’s a cave. Finally, Michael and I both would probably call the outcome a good result, Mark (and Tod) I think agree that it’s a good result. But it’s only a good result because it we all already think that politicizing the debt-ceiling is bad policy. If a person were to believe the debt limit part of the problem here, then Boehner’s actions would be viewed by them as bad governance as well as perhaps a cave.

        Shorter: my argument has been that the process by which Boehner arrived at this place (not merely the place he arrived at) is an example bad governance and can be reasonably described his having caved on the debt limit issue, and I believe both of those things independently of any judgment about the act of putting a clean bill up for vote.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I think Boehner

        1) should have thought all along that debt-ceiling hardball is bad for the country, far short of default;

        2) did know that;

        3) went along, even this time, as long as he could with it because trying to serve his caucus’s political needs – in particular doing the maximum to let them maximally display their resistance to raising the debt ceiling to their constituents – is of paramount importance to him;

        4) this is bad governance even if he didn’t know/believe this was bad for the country, because per #1, he should have known this; and

        5) it’s a sufficiently dangerous thing not to realize harms the country that, unlike many other areas where adequate governance is perfectly consistent with substantive disagreement about what harms the country and what is legitimately part of a valid vision of the public good, the kind of hardball played in 2011, and as a result the increasingly mild versions since then (even that just undertaken that would have resembled previous debt-ceiling haggling), good governance (from top Congressional leadership) in this case requires taking the tactic completely off the table preemptively – i.e. making a substantive update to your views about the requirements of the public good, in contravention of your constituency, if necessary.

        I did only say that he should have made the explicit argument to them about this tactic; I neglected to add that he needed to have overruled them at an early date to make clear that he was committed to that position as a principle he was impressing on them as a matter of his responsibility to consider the pubic good above their wishes when they are destructively enough mistaken about what the public good requires. I also don’t accept that he did make the arguments in the required terms, though I admit it’s possible he did. What’s clear is that he was searching for ways to advance his caucus’ general desire to continue pressing for concessions in return for prudently governing around the debt ceiling until the very minute he determined there was no way to produce the legislative vehicle that would enable that.

        I would ask you this: were all of the previous installments in this drama likewise adequate or good governance from him? From your criteria, I don’t see where they weren’t.Report

      • I think part of the disconnect here is that I disagree that in this particular instance Boehner could meaningfully be said to have been threatening default; that was not true in the past. You seem to be arguing that pursuing anything other than a clean bill from the outset constitutes debt ceiling hardball/threat of default. But I don’t think that’s the case – it seemed clear to me in this instance that Boehner was never remotely serious about defaulting if he couldn’t get a concession. I can’t find the link right now (and unfortunately don’t have the time to), but at least a week ago, Boehner was explicitly stating that under no circumstances would he allow a default. Even in the link that Stillwater tried to post (it’s here, btw:, Boehner’s press secretary says only that “we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a ‘clean’ debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House.” That’s as far from an actual threat as you can get – he was even then conceding that under no circumstances was he threatening default; he was just saying he didn’t have the votes – which, while less than truthful, is as mundane a negotiating tactic as you can find. In fact, the more appropriate poker analogy might even be that he was just checking from the big blind in hopes of catching a card on the flop. When he didn’t catch any part of the flop (because he couldn’t cobble together anything that would win much more of his own caucus’ votes than a clean bill would), he folded.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Let me add this: it’s possible to conflate two different modes of disagreement about how visions of the public good interact with the possibility of good governance. On the one hand, I can think that an official in X position must realize and act pursuant to a conclusion Y conclusion about the public good in order to display good governance. One mode of disagreement with that is to simply disagree that that conclusion (and acting pursuant to it) is required for good governance from that office. i believe that would be the nature of how Brandon below would disagree with me on this question – in this case: indeed, I think he would say that conclusion ~Y is necessary.

        It’s a different position to say that we are never in a position of saying that any particular proposition relating to a conception of the public good can be said to be inconsistent with good governance. That, so long as an official is acting pursuant to some (any!) real conception of the public good that she holds, so long as the institutional features of her action conform to some conception of the role and mode of operation of that particular office (but not if not), it’s always possible for her to display good or at least adequate governance. IOW, whatever she believes about the public good, as long as she’s pursuing according to some prescribed institutional method, it’s at least possible that she’ll be providing good governance by doing so.

        I’m not sure if anyone here is conflating these two ways to disagree about whether a given official is providing good governance in their position, but it is possible to do so.

        Obviously, I think there are some ideas about the public good that it is possible to hold that will prevent an official from being able to provide good governance, no matter how formally institutionally correct her actions in her particular office are. I think citizens (like myself) can be in a position to form an opnion that certain ideas are such ideas. But just because I think that’s the case in a given case doesn’t mean that I think that other citizens (like Brandon Berg) must arrive at the same conclusion as me. But just because I think that (that people can differ in those assessments) doesn’t mean that I must think that both Brandon Berg and I have to dispense with any beliefs we may hold about what substantive ideas about the public good may or may not be consistent with officials in various positions being able to provide good governance in the context of those offices – even if their institutionally pursuit of those (from our perspectives) mistaken conceptions of the public good are perfectly executed as a formal matter.Report

      • Mark,

        IMO, it no longer matters that, this time, Boehner could be said to have never meaningfully threatened default, because what he did do has to be viewed in the context of how markets view what he says about these matters in the context of the pattern established by the threats (which of course in fact were always bluffs) that were leveraged as quite credible in 2011 and subsequent years. IOW, he certainly could have gone as far as he did this year in years prior to 2011 (and if he had only ever gone that far, I would of course listen to arguments that that constituted adequate governance and possibly even good governance if the pressures to go further had been as strong as they in fact were). But now, he can’t go even that far consistent with adequate governance. He needed to have strongly taken the whole idea of seeking concessions off the table, based on an argument made to his caucus explicitly from the principle that he had realized (though he always should have known) that the tactic harms the country.

        Now, if, at the moment he had said that there weren’t the votes for a clean increase, that had been true, that might still be consistent with adequate governance, since he’d have been giving the world real information about the prospect for that necessary outcome (in which case, he would in fact have been credibly threatening default, even if it were not his wish to do so – and if it’s not his wish to do so and is his wish to assure that default was never going to happen, it is precisely his job as Speaker to produce the votes (in fact, whether he advertises or even denies that he has them or not) to make that a credible promise. If he made the promise but in fact lacked the votes, that is bad governance. His primary job is to have the votes for absolutely necessary legislation.)

        But it was not true – there were always the votes for a clean increase. And the point I am trying to make is that, after 2011, electively continuing with even mundane negotiations around needed debt ceiling increases is bad governance. He didn’t have to do that; he could have and should have and, to be consistent with even adequate governance, needed to take a principled and stand against such negotiating to his caucus from the outset, and enact that stand by never giving truck to those who wanted him to seek any concessions.

        Adequate governance today requires doing everything possible to end all seeking of policy concessions around needed debt ceiling increases. Yes, that’s new since 2011. That’s because what was done in 2011 completely changed the calculus around what adequate governance around the debt ceiling requires. It’s no longer like it was before 2011: objectively, the world looks at these events differently now. Policy makers must respond. That is how I say they have to do that.Report

      • @michael-drew I just don’t see any evidence that this time around markets ever got spooked in the least or that any other, even short-term, harm was actually done.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I don’t disagree with that, but I’m operating on a prophylactic principle. At this point, there is absolutely no reason to credit even taking the chance – being anything less than explicitly, proactively, crystal clear that this entire tactic of seeking concessions for debt ceiling increases necessary to cover existing commitments is definitively behind us as far as current officeholders are concerned – as being even adequate governance. It’s too dangerous.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Mark, if Boehner never had any intention of defaulting, and therefore never had any intention of extracting concessions from the democrats by threatening to prevent a clean bill from making it to the floor, then that threat, being empty, is bad governance.

        If he did have that intention – even if only minimally – then he caved.

        It cannot be both good governance and not an instance of a politician caving. And that conclusion holds – for me, anyway – irrespective of the actual outcome of the process. I think his process was bad governance; I think his about face on the clean bill issue was a cave (a small one, since at the time he folded the pot was small). For personal reasons, I think letting the House vote on a clean bill is good policy. If I were a conservative or Brandon type of libertarian, however, I’d probably think it was bad governance since, as BB says, it’s a lever that at least in principle can be used to achieve policy goals.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @stillwater this belies an important reality: he has to let members of his conference speak in such a way as to protect themselves in a primary challenge from the right.

        This is crucial; a flux of additional radicals, willing to let the nation default would only make the problem recurring; it would indicate he hadn’t learned the lesson. Let them speak, give them cover, and get enough votes to pass the debt-ceiling increase; and as we see today, put out a trial balloon about making the whole problem go away by reverting to the Gephardt rule using the same majority.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        Well, I obviously disagree. If he wanted to quash the whole nonsense consistently with good governance he would’ve found the requisite number of yes votes for a clean bill and gone public with that instead of asserting that a clean bill had no hopes of making it to the floor only to change his mind three weeks later.Report

      • @stillwater This may be semantics, but I don’t see anything where he said he wouldn’t bring a clean bill to the floor this time around; he said a clean bill wouldn’t pass (and was assuredly bluffing when he said that), but he never threatened to keep a clean bill from reaching the floor. In reality, all he tried to do was find a worthy rider to attach to the debt ceiling bill but that wouldn’t threaten to kill it, something that’s been done for ages. Had he actually found something that would have met those criteria, it would have been no less the end of the GOP’s extortion tactics on this issue, which had centered on forcing the Dems into either defaulting or effectively abdicating their control of the Senate and Executive. There’s a world of difference between “govern exactly how we tell you or we’ll default” and “give us an incentive to move a little more quickly on this.”

        As for whether the end result constitutes a “cave,” as I said, I don’t really care whether it’s characterized that way. The bigger point, as I was trying to get at with my poker analogy, is that it was most analogous to a low-risk bet that’s the right play whether or not it worked out for him – just as long as he didn’t stick with it to the point where he become pot-committed.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        zic, I had not. I read thru a bit, and uhhhh … think you could summarize the juicy bits for me?

        Mark, I’m pretty willing to agree to disagree about this. I can’t think of anything new to say on it. I think both our analyses of this rely on a background picture of Boehner, the Republican House, past histories, standard practices in politics, gambling, strategery, etc. We’re looking at this particular incident with all that informing our views, it seems to me. Or perhaps I should merely say that I am. Your views would make more sense to me if they weren’t made against the backdrop of the annual debt limit crises, if it was some random example of political posturing without much of history or fully formed positions. But in this case, since he knew that the Dems would raise him in any event and that they had all the cards, so the whole premise that he was engaging in good governance by betting just strikes me as a real stretch. Wrong, in fact.Report

  12. Avatar zic says:

    Jonathan Bernstein is worth a read here:

    He lays out the logic of why mainstream Republicans would see it worth arousing the ire of the fringe right, and then applies this same logic to other potential legislation:

    That puts mainstream conservatives in the driver’s seat, at least for any legislation that Democrats believe is necessary. Whether the issue is immigration, minimum wage, unemployment benefits or ENDA protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, if mainstream House conservatives want it to pass, it will pass. If not, not. Tea Party radicals just don’t have much influence in the results.


    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      Thanks, @zic this reminds me of something I meant to mention in other comments.

      THIS is what the liberals should be dancing about. The embarassment here shouldn’t be Boehner’s, but the Tea Party. They’re the ones that couldn’t get their leader to do what they wanted. They’re the ones who are mad. They’re the ones we should be scoffing at.

      Not the guy who ultimately prevented another shutdown (or worse). You don’t have to throw the guy a parade, but he shouldn’t particularly be the embarrassed one here. He shouldn’t be the one that non-TP folks are weakening.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        That’s where most of my desire to impress lessons is aimed. But there’s a certain amount of pointing out how much less pain Boehner had to endure than he did endure that helps clarify for future Republican leadership how to address this kind of situation. That’s what we mean by taunting: no one is actually putting their thumb on their nose and singing “Nyah-na na-nyah-na!!”Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        I also think it’s crucial to challenge the way reporting is framed.

        To remain competitive and exciting, mass media seems to constantly need a horse race; and a photo-finish race at that. Keeps us tuning in to see who’s ahead, who’s behind. So the reporting of governing is framed as a constant competition and battle, not as the art of bipartisan compromise.

        Boehner listened to his house majority and counted the votes on a another debt-limit debate, and there were not 280 for any given demand. They just were not there. So he counted the votes on no debt-limit hostage taking, and seems to think he can get to 280 with Dems and some of his majority. So enough of the Republican members of the House were chastened by the shutdown to produce a bipartisan vote that moves beyond.

        In my view, this should be celebrated as a positive step and not put back in the box of the never ending battle between red and blue. Media coverage that reports on the battle and not the bipartisanship should have rotten tomatoes thrown on the set and in the presses.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:


        The clean increase was always there. I’m not inclined to praise him if what happened is that he mucked around looking for something to extract, found there weren’t even majorities to pass a bill that would never become law tying the increase to anything because there was division about what to demand, so then defaulted to the only action he could take that wouldn’t out him as utterly ineffectual: passing the clean increase with almost all opposing-party votes. That’s because the behavior we want is the Do-Not-Pass-Go direct route to increasing the limit without conditions. He sought to attach conditions (with an intention to eventually cave), found he couldn’t even do that, and just gave up.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman says:


        I’ll cede my use of the word ‘celebrated’ a bit too much.

        I subscribe to puppy training theory, here: Don’t reward bad behavior. Puppies like attention. So when they bark, bite, chew the furniture, or crap on the floor and you yell at them, you’re giving them attention. Giving them what they like. Ignore bad behavior whenever possible; if you must respond, respond with shunning. Turn your back on the damned puppy and let it know it you did not like it.

        And reward good behavior with a scooby snack.Report

  13. Avatar Stillwater says:

    So there’s a disagreement in whether this is a cave or not, yes?

    Did Boehner say less than two weeks ago that he intended to take the debt-ceiling hostage again? (I think he did, pretty explicitly, it I’m remebering right.)

    So if we’re not gonna call his change of mind on this a cave, what to we call it? It’s certainly not “good governance”.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

      I pose the same question to you I did M’Drew: Did Obama cave to Syria? Or Iran? North Korea?

      Because if we’re using your definition of what “caving” is, then Fox News is right: he sure did.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Huh? I don’t get the analogy. Obama made threats to Syria to achieve a certain end, and achieved that end without the use of military force. Boehner said he was gonna hold the debt ceiling hostage to gain spending cuts (I think) and notably didn’t achieve his goals via some other means even while he abandons his threat of hostage taking.

        Is there something I’m missing here?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

      Strategy, my friend. A failed strategy, yes. We all face the risk of thinking our side engages in strategy, while the other side engages in shenanigans. But if we call every failed strategy by the other side a “cave” and “shenanigans,” then we’ve abandoned the language we need to talk analytically about political strategy.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        James, that may true as a general approach but wrt holding the debt-ceiling hostage I don’t think it applies, for two reasons. Last time they did this, it gained them nothing policy-wise and lost them heaps of political capital. Second, given the recent history of the Dems not “caving” to the demands of the GOP when they did in fact hold the deb limit hostage, the mere threat taking it hostage again is entirely empty. So there’s no leverage in threatening to do so. The only leverage comes from actually taking the damn thing hostage, putting a gun to its head and demanding extractions from the Dems*. But the GOP has learned that they have no such leverage wrt policy and will likely lose on the politics.

        *And if the Dems gave in, cratered under that pressure, collapsed from the FEAR, we’d very likely say that they quote-unquote caved.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        This isn’t good strategy. Good strategy is demanding /something/
        getting /something/ even if it’s small.

        Boehner heard about the snowstorm and tucked tail and ran home.

        (Now, you could call that good governance, if you’d rather have
        DC shut down than spend money shoveling it out).Report

  14. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    You heard Obama’s comment on this, right?

    “I’m the best politician in the game. When you try me with a sorry legislator like Bohner, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”Report

  15. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This is at best marginally related, but I thought I would share it.

    I just got a call from “my congressman” (quotes because he’s not my congressman since I moved) who called for what I guess was a survey. When I heard who it was, I was expecting a thing about this because I am on some Tea Party list or another. I was expecting him to talk about how we need to beat back Washington or something.

    Instead, he said that he wants to hear my opinions on how we “can get our government back on track” to “serve the needs of the people and taxpayers”… the latter bit was kind of odd (taxpayers are people!) and obviously a nod to his district’s conservative temperament, but on the whole it struck a very different tone than his predecessor would have. Making me not-sorry that he was one of the (minority of) Republicans I did vote for.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

      Tell him to read my post on Woodrow Wilson, then fall in line and pledge to support the current Tribune of the People. 😉Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

      the latter bit was kind of odd (taxpayers are people!)

      This does not appear to be a universally agreed-upon point. Consider, for example, how defenses of Obamacare centered around the claim that it would not increase deficits, as if that meant that it were free, when in fact it imposed a significant cost on taxpayers. Discussion of optimal tax rates from the left often boil down to “We’re not on the right-hand side of the Laffer curve, so let’s raise taxes!” as if the only thing that mattered were maximizing government revenue, costs to the taxpayers be damned. And of course Romney was mocked for pointing out the obvious fact that the cost of corporate income taxes is borne by people.

      I’m sure that if pressed, even the leftiest leftist will admit that taxpayers are in fact people. But that detail does not seem to figure heavily into their policy analysis.

      Also, it’s an important signal. It tells you very explicitly that he considers taxpayer burden to be important. Would you infer that if he had only asked you your opinion about how we “can get our government back on track and serve the needs of the people?”Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        “And of course Romney was mocked for pointing out the obvious fact that the cost of corporate income taxes is borne by people.”

        yeah, I’m still mocking you about that one. You don’t know how much taxes you’re paying.
        (neither do I, fwiw). So you can’t really tell which people are net producers and which ones are net scofflaws.

        Brandon — there are many things that liberals want to do better with government. Yes, of course they want to raises taxes (where appropriate) in order to do them! They’re also quite interested in lowering taxes (where revenue neutral), because um, duh.Report

      • @brandon-berg It’s the “people and taxpayers” that came across oddly… if he’d just said “taxpayers” or “taxpayers and their families” it wouldn’t have been so odd.Report

  16. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    “Caving” is affectionate. We’re saying “Boehner, get over here, you big spelunk.”Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird says:

    When is the debt ceiling scheduled to be hit again? October?

    If so, it’s pretty smart to taunt Boehner. Maybe he’ll be suckered into starting a fight right before an election. If it’s December…Report

  18. Avatar Damon says:

    Caved? It’s not caving when you took to the battlements previously and lost the last time.
    Governed? I think this was a political calculation. I don’t call that governing.Report

  19. Avatar North says:

    Eh, the citizen in me mildly agrees with Todd.

    The long suffering liberal in me would like to gloat, especially after the years and years of watching Obama get punked by these clowns while he clung to his hope and change shtick.

    The partisan in me wishes Boehner had driven this right up to a shut down so as to pummel the GOP’s numbers for the upcoming election.

    And the utterly inappropriate person in me wishes I could see Tebow appropriately (nakedly) attired. (sorry Jaybird)Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to North says:

      The citizen in me understands that Todd has it precisely backwards.
      The Republicans decided to cut and run from an oncoming snowstorm,
      so that they didn’t have to /shovel their sidewalks/.

      That’s, um, caving.

      Actually doing their damn job would be “pretending to have some demands,
      then settling for some small demands the Dems don’t care about.” Win-Win.Report

  20. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Still, would it have killed them (and other liberals) to at the very least keep their yaps shut on that rarest of occasions: Congress actually doing its fishing job?

    Congress’s fishing job is to exercise fiscal responsibility and get spending under control, not to rubber-stamp hundreds of billions of dollars in debt every time they’re asked.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Guns and Cigarettes Baby! Guns and Cigarettes!

      If congress can’t keep a reserve currency afloat…Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I get that fiscal responsibility in any absolute sense is too much to ask from the current administration and Congress. Asking for a repeal of Obamacare was overreaching. But they should have tried to secure some moderate concessions on spending before once again handing the Democrats what is effectively a blank check.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      @brandon-berg – No, their job is to govern.

      If they believe they need to cut spending (and ftr, I would argue that they don’t — except as a political point to make as the minority party) they need to get more people elected so that they can do that.

      This is the same logical fallacy that made everyone on the right convinced Obama couldn’t possibly win a second term, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary: that somehow a greater degree of passion in a “nay” vote will make that vote magically count more than an “aye.”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The depth-of-feeling issue is something I see from time to time, and it seems to coincide with the degree to which a politician suffers from epistemically closure in information and opinion sourcing. But I can’t say that this sort of macro-narcissism is particular to conservatives: Alan Grayson, for instance, seems to suffer from it as well.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        that somehow a greater degree of passion in a “nay” vote will make that vote magically count more than an “aye.”

        I’m stealing that line.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That government’s job is to govern is just a tautology. It doesn’t tell us what good governing actually entails. Which is doing what’s right and economically prudent.

        Republicans control the House, which means they have the sole authority to originate revenue-raising legislation. I’m not saying they should shoot for the moon like they did with Obamacare. I’m saying that they should use the authority vested in them by the Constitution and the voters to force the Democrats to make some good-faith steps towards moderate spending reductions.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        No, their job is to govern.

        I’m somewhere in the middle, on this. I think Brandon’s conception of good governance is that it has to include fiscal responsibility/reducing spending from current trendlines, and I agree with that.

        On the other hand, the concept of believing their job is merely to govern seems like a vacuous statement – that their job is to do their job, or something like that. What does it mean to govern? What job are they supposed to do? Brandon (and libertarians in general) think it means doing *this* stuff, liberals think it means *that* stuff, conservative *some other* stuff. There’s a bit of overlap, but not much.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @brandon-berg I notice that the subject of this discussion has shifted from “Congress” to “government.” Is it tautological that Congress’ job is to “govern”? Or is it tautological that Congress’ job is to “legislate”? I would say neither — sometimes, no legislation is necessary, and good government sometimes involves keeping a hands-off posture. At least a part of Congress’ job is to use good judgment in deciding not only how, but also when and if, to legislate.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Yeah totally agree with you there. Though having the President do a ton of executive actions without legislative guidance is probably not a good thing. Principled “we’re not going to regulate that” is fine in my book (particularly if you’re willing to argue it.).Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It’s really just a question of semantics now, isn’t it, whether legislating can be considered governing? My point, as Stillwater noted, is that saying that Congress’s job is to “govern” or “legislate” or anything like that isn’t actually saying anything. You need a theory of what good governing is.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It’s a crock of a point however you spin it Brandon. The GOP controls the house and the GOP does have the power to originate revenue raising legislation. So if the GOP wished to cut spending the correct way to do so would be to issue a budget with lower spending levels. This would specifically indicate how much revenue the GOP is willing to accept and (most importantly) what government functions the GOP will publicly commit to reducing and by how much.

        Instead, the GOP, while making noises about cutting spending, is utterly unwilling to actually commit to concrete numbers for what exactly they will cut. Instead we have this juvenile nonsense about the debt limit where the GOP tries to impose a general overall amount of spending reduction on the Dems/Obama and then also demand that Obama and the Dems figure out what specifically to cut and by how much with the threat that they’d refuse to lift the budget ceiling if their demands were not met. It’s nonsensical, an insane attempt to both have the cake of achieving spending reductions while also eating it to by getting to assume the minority party’s traditional perk of decrying the majority for cutting spending.

        It’s telling that even Paul Ryan’s various reduction plans have always depended on the fuzziest of vague numbers when it came to what specifically he wishes to cut and reduce. It’s always the spending behind the tree. Obama and his party are under no obligation to play along with this insane delusion the GOP has been indulging in and I’m relieved to see that Boehner at least seems to have realized this particular con is simply not going to fly and has accordingly abandoned it.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @brandon-berg I agree that legislating is part of but not the totality of governing, just as I agree that Congress is part of but not the totality of government. The exchange appeared to be about what Congress ought or ought not to do, as the OP focuses on a shift in position by the leadership of the House of Representatives. I noticed that the focus was shifting, though: when we speak of the government as a whole, we include not only the House but the Senate, and the President, and the massive bureaucracy that reports ultimate to the President and some of that bureaucracy whose responsibility to the President is nominal at best. To a lesser degree, we also speak of Federal judges, although not with respect to the debt ceiling issue specifically. Most of (not all of) the political decision-makers in this hierarchy are (at the moment) Democrats whose regard for Speaker Boehner is limited to a need to either comply with laws reported out of Congress or a need to negotiate with Boehner about what those laws will look like.Report

    • Avatar morat20 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Brandon, you KNOW how the debt ceiling works.

      It’s to cover borrowing for money Congress already spent. You know this. So why are you pretending the debt ceiling vote has ANYTHING to do with spending? Or is a “rubber stamp”?

      Congress allocated the money. Congress spent the money, all in previous bills.

      Pretending the debt ceiling is a “rubber stamp to spending” is partisan idiocy. At best it’s merely an excuse for people to say “Gosh darn it, look at how much we’re borrowing! We should stop sometime!” and pretend like the were shocked — SHOCKED — that the budget they voted on six months or a year prior required borrowing.

      I was fine with using it as a pro-forma “I really dislike this deficit spending” bit — basically a bit of Congressional theater to let people get on the record opposing the borrowing for the spending they voted for — but it’s use over the last two years means it’s time to go.

      There’s no reason for Congress to handle borrowing power separately from allocation bills.

      As you well know, Brandon, the government spends ONLY what Congress — a Congress that the GOP has quite a bit of sway on — says. And not a penny more.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to morat20 says:

        Well, not quite.

        It’s to cover the money that was spent and the interest on the borrowing of funds that was spent. And while the two are linked, they are separate. It’s perfectly consistent to approve spending and not approve a hike in the debt ceiling. Think of it as “two bites of the apple” in the fiscal process.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to morat20 says:

        This isn’t true. The money isn’t spent until it actually goes out the door. Scheduling spending can always be unscheduled.

        Furthermore, my point isn’t that raising the debt ceiling causes more spending. It’s that the debt ceiling is a lever that can be used to extract concessions on spending. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe the Democrats would refuse to make even minor spending cuts. But that has nothing to do with what you’re saying.

        And I’m not saying Republican haven’t been irresponsible with spending in the past. They have—and how!—especially during the last administration. I’m just saying that the right thing for them to do is to start being responsible now.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to morat20 says:

        Somehow I think flirting with guns and cigarettes and having all your backers burning up the phone lines hollering at you is NOT good governance, nor is it good strategy.

        The Republicans have gone quite MAD.

        Of course, one could say that the Democrats’ solution to fiscal irresponsibility (Obamacare) is quite NUTS.

        (yes, I like those acronyms).Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to morat20 says:

        No, Brandon, it’s not a lever to extract spending concessions. That’s called “the budget process”.

        The only way it’s a “lever” is if you’re willing to destroy the credit of the United States for “spending concessions”.

        And again: Why is borrowing authority not done with the budget, where the spending is authorized? (Well, authorized is a weak term — required).

        You’re flatly stating: “Well, Congress agreed to spend X. Which they knew would require borrowing Y. When it comes time to borrow Y, Congress can use this opportunity to decide to change X to some smaller X!”.

        If they wanted to do that, why didn’t they just choose the smaller X in the first place. It was, after all, the exact same Congress full of the exact same people.

        Congress voted a budget. If they wanted to vote a smaller budget, they should have voted a smaller budget. The Debt Ceiling isn’t “Budget time 2.0” — it’s housekeeping.

        Frankly they should just authorize the Treasury to borrow as needed, because the Treasury can never spend a penny Congress hasn’t told it to.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to morat20 says:


        It’s that the debt ceiling is a lever that can be used to extract concessions on spending. Maybe I’m wrong about that.

        Well, it looks like you’re wrong about that, but that’s mainly just a function of good decisions on the part of the opposition.

        But if punching ourselves in the collective face is a legitimate negotiating tool, what isn’t? Can Obama threaten to order air strikes on Israel to get an expansion to Obamacare? Or threaten to fire every attorney in the DOJ and slow roll their replacements? Dismiss all federal criminal cases in one particular state? There’s a continuum between legitimate negotiating tactic and straight up terrorism, and every time we take a step down that line, we make that tactic legitimate forevermore. If the end result is that your voice in government is amplified if you’re willing to do foolish and dangerous things, I think it’s a step in the wrong direction.

        If I held up the mortgage payment every time my wife and I disagreed over some minor point in our household budget, she’d rightly think I was crazy. Maybe it would be easier for her to knuckle under on such issues as whether to by chicken breasts or thighs at the grocery store, but it’s indicative of a much deeper problem. For most observers, I doubt if my arguing about her objectively bad taste in chicken parts would enter into the matter.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to morat20 says:

        TF and Brandon,
        I’ll note that it was Bush’s Treasury Secretary calling this action “Economic Terrorism”.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to morat20 says:

        Or, on a similar note, would Obama and his party be in the right if they threatened to block the debt ceiling increase unless taxes were increased to reduce the deficit? I submit that they would be just as insanely in the wrong if they did so as the GOP is for trying to extort spending cuts by the same mechanism. It’s not governing, it’s attempted extortion (hilariously using their own heads as the hostage~ and they wonder why they keep losing).Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to morat20 says:

        If they wanted to do that, why didn’t they just choose the smaller X in the first place.

        Fundamentally, because the Republicans have discovered that they don’t have the votes in the House to choose a smaller X. Rep. Ryan’s budget resolution that had a much smaller X passed with Republican votes alone. But when individual budget bills started appearing that implemented the real cuts needed to meet the resolution, we were treated to the sight of Boehner pulling bills off the calender because he couldn’t assemble enough Republicans to pass them. So they ended up with a budget arrangement that had an X much larger than what was in the resolution.

        The hope behind holding up the debt ceiling is that Obama is dumb enough to attempt what the far-right keeps saying, that the President has the authority to pick and choose what bills get paid. In hopes that Obama and the Dems will get blamed for the unpopular cuts. The correct political response appears to be what Obama chose last time — shut everything* down and pin the blame on the Congressional Republicans.

        * For certain values of everything. An awful lot seemed to be exempt.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:


        Without making any further comments on the goodness/badness of the Republicans’ strategy, I must critique your emphasis on the budget process. While it’s true that the budget process is the primary means of determining taxation and spending, it’s by no means the sole means. New programs are created outside the budgeting process and allocated money; subsequent legislation (including amendments to other bills) can add/reduce money to programs. Sure, they’ll probably get slotted into the next budget process, too, but they also have an existence outside of that.

        So we can’t say that only budget process fiscal decisions are legitimate. So that criticism doesn’t really work against the Republicans’ strategy here, because from that perspective it’s just one example of a larger, legitimate, class. If it’s illegitimate, it’s for a different reason than that.

        Pretending the debt ceiling is a “rubber stamp to spending” is partisan idiocy.

        Yes, that part is absolutely true. I don’t want you to think I was criticizing that.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to morat20 says:


        Even those are STILL subject entirely to the whim of Congress. No one OTHER than Congress allocates a penny of spending, nor a penny of taxation.

        Each and every bit is voted on, whether it’s called a “budget” or an “emergency spending bill” or “SS amendment 15 regarding changes to income calculations” or whatever.

        If Congress really wants to spend less money, it merely has to…spend less money. If it wants to borrow less it merely has to..spend less money (or raise taxes). But this idiotic pretense that “borrowing” is some strange, unconnected thing that just happens rather than the straightforward result of Congress’ own choices is stupid. (That’s not even getting into the ridiculous way the President is often worked into the topic. Not that the President isn’t involved in the budget, sometimes greatly so, but the strange stage acting as if the President was just tossing money wherever, on his own violation, with Congress helpless on the sidelines is stupid and aggravating. Especially from people who actually voted FOR pretty much the entirety of the spending bills for that year).Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to morat20 says:

        There also is a difference between a budget and an appropriation. One’s a guide, one’s actually an authorization on spending.Report

  21. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    To be perfectly honest, this is one I’ve never understood. The Republican opinion of liberals is that we’re Atheist, pro-terrorist, antichristian, racist, anti family baby murderers. But they get really hurt if we disrespect them.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      You’d think that those hypocritical, nativist, racist, homophobic, sexist neanderthals would at least have a sense of humor.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        But they absolutely don’t. See any example of right-wing political humor created in the past 20 years for evidence.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        If you count rampantly homophobic “making fun of San Francisco” I think Eddie Murphy had a few funny bits.

        Religious conservatives have a … different sense of humor than the rest of us. Troublingly so.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Such is the burden of being the adult governing party Mike. The GOP can throw their jeuvenile fits and their aging shrivelling voter base will stick with them. Tod has a point though, the Dems have a country to run so they really don’t have time to indulge in this nonsense.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

        I made a similar point recently in response to another post (that liberals are the only grownups in politics these days), and got accused of Ray Bolgering. But it’s quite true.Report

    • Avatar morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I get the same feeling when people talking about ‘real America’ as the heartland. The same people that use “coastal elites” get angry when the term “flyover country” is used.

      Half of America lives on the coasts. That’s American as the rest of the country combined. I just don’t get why states with smaller populations than Houston often get considered ‘real America’. I suppose they must all have 2.3 kids and one third of a dog.

      Or I suppose the latest trend of really rich people getting upset because they’re not respected enough. I guess they’re just angry because they finally found something money can’t buy? 🙂 They’ll just have to drown their sorrows in swimming pools full of champagne.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to morat20 says:


        Or I suppose the latest trend of really rich people getting upset because they’re not respected enough. I guess they’re just angry because they finally found something money can’t buy? 🙂

        I think that’s more true that most people realize. Once your basic financial needs are met, status becomes incredibly important, and I don’t see any reason why that doesn’t get more and more extreme as money becomes less and less significant. If you’re used to being treated like a rock star, it hurts to lose it.

        The rich have done just fine under Obama from a financial perspective, but they’re more pissed off than ever. According to my “more X/less X” analysis, that’s a pretty strong indicator that it really isn’t about how government policy affects their pocketbooks. It’s about not getting their rings kissed any more. Sure, the Treasury Secretary is invariably a golf buddy of yours, but the President used to ask your opinion directly. That’s a downgrade, and money can’t buy an upgrade.

        When I worked for a small tech company, the engineers were treated like rock stars. We got paid less than market, but we had fun and the CEO made it clear (in as many words and with his policies) that during our early development days, the people actually designing the cool new product were the core of the company and he and the rest of management were overhead. We were respected and consulted on every decision, more so than anybody else in the company.

        Fast forward to us being a big tech company with a more typical corporate culture and different executives. Pay was a little better, benefits were a lot better. We worked on the same projects. Corporate culture changed so that engineers are viewed as an easily fungible paste purchasable in jars and the top executives were the real rock stars. Engineers became sad, even though they were quantifiably better off. And most complained about the compensation.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to morat20 says:

        no doubt about it, having a workplace that is fun, and thinks you’re important, is pretty damn cool.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      And I’ve never understood why those on the “left’s” opinion of the right as a bunch of gun toting, religious fanatics that want to force every woman who’s been raped to have the child while keeping her from getting medical care and welfare….Report

  22. Avatar Kolohe says:

    The fact that only 28 Republicans voted for the ‘clean’ debt limit deal while 201 voted against it – and that there is was no subsequent no confidence vote to replace Boehner – signals to me that it is still very useful for Boehner to be in his job so that Congressional Republicans can run this year against Obama, Pelosi, *and* Boehner. Which should give them the turnout edge they need to keep the House* and may spill over into the Senate races. (otoh, Greg Bannon)

    *though as discussed previously and frequently, gerrymandering helps them a great deal too, but not insurmountable, given a sufficiently robust Democratic effort.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kolohe says:

      Boehner is a rump speaker.
      Sidenote: Boehner pronounced with the umlaut is hilariously funny.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Kolohe says:

      But who do they replace him with Kolohe? Other serious politicians would probably not want the job and the TPers who would jump at it would be clowns.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to North says:

        That’s my point – he’s too useful for the current political fundraising/political election ecosystem to be replaced. It’s like the old Bill Cosby routine “I’ve seen the boss’s job – and I don’t want it”. With Boehner continuing as the Speaker until 2017, the modal Republican can have his proverbial cake and eat it too and go back to bed.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to North says:

        I mean, that’s the real shocking part to me. With the exception of Rand Paul, there’s a surprising lack of naked ambition in the rightward 3/4 of the Republican party.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to North says:

        you’re looking in the wrong place for the ambition then. The ambition is held by the people behind the politicians. Isn’t that obvious?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to North says:

        I disagree. I think there is plenty of naked ambition — just not to govern.

        When I think of that demographic these days, I think of a group of people jonesing hard for a lucrative media gig.

        Paul, on the other hand, really does seem to want to govern, which I think is why even though I don’t care for a lot of his positions, I find myself both respecting him and taking him seriously in a way I don’t Ted Cruz.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to North says:

        ” The ambition is held by the people behind the politicians. ”

        That is, by definition, not naked ambition. Striving to only be the string puller behind the scenes with no ultimate goal of stepping into the light like Palpantine or either House of Cards’ lead character is burquaed ambition.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to North says:

        Other serious politicians would probably not want the job and the TPers who would jump at it would be clowns.

        Boehner is already at the edge of looking like a clown. He had to pass the debt limit increase using Democratic votes twice. The far-right, both in the House and the Senate, abuse him. The probability of passing substantial legislation on anything between now and November is nil. Is he going to take it for another eleven months? Why not let a real clown have the job?

        If I thought I could get an honest answer from him, the question I would ask is, “You’re taking one for the team, right? Letting them trash your reputation in order to keep the party from looking so ridiculous that 2014 and 2016 turn into disasters?”Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to North says:

        Now, if I were being really Machiavellian, I’d try to get a Dem to take the job. So we could run against Obama, Reid, and Palosi in November. As best I can judge from my reactionary acquaintances, the three of them are sort of equally hated.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to North says:

        I don’t think “taking one for the team” is really in the nature of the type of person who becomes Speaker of the House.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Kolohe says:

      I agree.

      This allows legislation to move forward. If you look at the R yes votes, I’d guess 100% of them come from people who don’t have to fear a challenge. This gives cover to everyone else to keep from displeasing the base so that they don’t create primary problems for their own upcoming elections.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Kolohe says:

      Additionally, up thread, I linked to Jonathan Bernstein, who suggests that this puts mainstream conservatives in the driver’s seat when it comes to working on goals where the Dems want to make progress.

      This is bipartisan; even if the cover for the fringe feels icky.Report

  23. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Now, here are some people considering actually doing (or trying to do) some governing, with potentially adequate governance:

    • Avatar zic in reply to Michael Drew says:

      This would be a good thing for a GOP-led house; they can pass it the same way they passed the last raising, with the dems and enough votes from safe R seats to get into the majority, and eliminate the pitfalls of needing concessions going forward, while still letting the blame sit on the Dems and a handful of RINOs in safe seats.

      They get to have their cake and eat it, too.Report

  24. Avatar Philip H says:

    @tod-kelly ,
    A couple of points. First, please stop equating centerist commentators in major daily newspapers with liberals. They are not, and if they think Mr. Boehner caved, then that’s nice – but its not a “liberal” position.

    Rather the Liberal position is that Mr. Boehner is still failing to govern because he got a clean debt limit raise passed that goes until March 15 (!) using Democratic votes so he has more time to get his caucus in line. In a month we’ll be right back at this precipice. Tactically he won a small victory for himself, but he’s not yet achieving governing.

    Second, if you want Liberals such as myself to actually respect what he and other purported “leaders’ are doing in the minority Party, then he and they (and you) need to OWN the fact that Congress passes legislation (per @burt-likko ) to authorize the spending of government funds; and further they and you need to own the fact that beginning in the Reagan era Republican and Democratic Congresses passed appropriations bills that exceeded tax receipts on a routine basis. Like it or not, we need debt ceiling raises because Mr. Obama (and Presidents before him) are following the direction of Congress in federal law, and that direction comes with a monetary price that exceeds the amount of money the federal government takes in. The only “spending problem” that requires governing is the problem that Congress won’t raise taxes to meet directed outlays (or cut them to meet tax receipts). Keep saying its Mr. Obama’s fault – as Mr. Boehner routinely does – and I have zero incentive as a Liberal to respect you, “caving” or not.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Philip H says:


      First off, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t call Josh Marshall a liberal. He refers to himself as a liberal, started TPM to be an explicitly politically liberal news organization, and I am hard pressed to think of any position he or TPM takes on any issue that is not in keeping with modern, US, mainstream liberalism. The only thing that separates him from most right-wing biased news organizations like, say, Fox, is:

      A. He is up front and transparent that he is coming from a particular political point of view,

      B. He and his staff does actual reporting, research and fact checking, and correct themselves publicly when they get their info wrong,

      C. He doesn’t make s**t up to make his side look better, and and because of that,

      D. He is willing to call out Dems when they are incompetent, corrupt, or bats**t crazy.

      (All of these things are to his deserved credit, btw.)

      So I’m confused… Why would you say he isn’t liberal? Is this a kind of mirror-imaged RINO thing — a DINO, or a LINO, if you will? If so, and if the “real” liberals out there are deciding to David-Frum the likes of Josh Marshall, then you guys are waaaay closer to the Rs than I had previously thought.

      As far as the whole “Tod wants you to respect the GOP” and “Tod blames everything on Obama,” I’d invite you to actually read what I write someday.

      As to the rest, I’ll let my arguments in the threads stand.Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        TPM was started with good intentions, but more and more it seems his writers ARE indeed going to the political center – which the R’s have successfully rebranded as the ultra left – and largely rebranded without the consent of the Left I might add. Yes he calls out Democrats when the frack up – but so do I on the rare occassionas I get more then 30 second to write my own blog.

        The GOP might well wish to lower federal government expenditures, but Boehner seems to recognize that there’s no real point in pushing a position that lacks the support of the President, the Senate, and even a sufficient number of his own party members in the House.

        This is the sentence that set me off on the rest. The GOP doesn’t want to lower federal expenditures – they’ve been raising them consistently since 1981 with the gleeful aid of an increasingly non-Liberal Democratic Party. They don’t ever publicly own that history; rather they are STILL content to make it seem as if the President acts independently to spend federal tax receipts. Which is why when you write:

        I know, I know – it’s a little thing. But I think it’s yet another scrap of anecdotal evidence that U.S. liberals are slowly remaking themselves in the right’s Ratings-First-Governance-Last image. I have a ton of respect for the work Marshall has done, so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he and TPM weren’t rooting for the page hits that the GOP’s trashing of the country’s credit position and suspension of services for the needy would surely have provided. Still, would it have killed them (and other liberals) to at the very least keep their yaps shut on that rarest of occasions: Congress actually doing its fishing job?

        my reaction is no, “we” liberals – Mr. Marshall mostly included, are not going to give Mr. Boehner props for “governing” because he actually HASN’T done his fishing or flipping or fracking job – he’s employed a tactical maneuver to float him some time to try to figure out how to tame the beast he helped create (as Greg Sargent pointed out in today’s WaPo). Actually governing would mean passing legislation that either raised the debt ceiling until 30 September when the federal fiscal year ends, OR better yet getting rid of the debt ceiling limit totally AND acknowledging while he did so that he was honoring 30 plus years of Republican and Democratic votes in the House to fund more government then we can afford based on receipts.Report