John Boehner: the Jack Aubrey of politics

Joanne Butler Contributor
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Today’s vote on Paul Ryan’s budget bill makes me think that House Speaker John Boehner is the Jack Aubrey of politics. Fans of Patrick O’Brien’s naval fiction and the 2003 movie “Master and Commander” know Aubrey as “Lucky Jack,” the cheerfully fearless and shrewd ship’s captain. The key to Aubrey’s success was timing, especially quick repeated volleys (giving the enemy no time to recover) — and Boehner has done the same thing by scheduling the Ryan 2012 budget vote right after the contentious vote on 2011 spending.

Commentators and scribblers on the left have been so caught up with fretting over whether President Obama caved to Boehner on cuts on 2011 spending, that they’ve largely missed today’s action on 2012 spending. For example, Slate’s top story is about the 2011 deal — that’s so yesterday (in fairness, they’ve got a blog entry on today’s vote, but it’s not the top story).

As the House starts its two-week Passover/Easter recess, the big question is what reaction Republican members will get from their constituents (especially seniors) regarding Ryan’s proposals for Medicare vouchers and Medicaid block grants to the states. Will they react differently this year than they did in 2005?

In 2005, many House Republican members got cold feet over President Bush’s plan to partly privatize Social Security when, beginning with the February (Washington’s birthday) recess, they encountered angry seniors storming their district offices and disrupting town hall meetings. It got so bad that by the Easter recess in March, the House Republican office in charge of public relations was advising members not to hold Social Security reform town hall meetings, and to use “expert panels” to respond to audience questions.

If, in fact, this year’s Easter recess experience is different, it will be due in large part to the Aubrey-like one-two punch that Boehner delivered to the liberals. The left is still figuring out where to direct their outrage on their own side over the last battle: to Obama (for negotiating with Boehner)? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (for lacking backbone)? Pelosi (for failing to lead)?

Will this happy distraction make it more difficult for the left to organize protests à la 2005? We will soon find out. But to quote Jack Aubrey, “quick’s the word and sharp’s the action” — in other words, Republicans should be ready for sparks over recess!

Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at joanne-butler@comcast.net.