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Douglas Cohn: Speaker Boehner smart to focus on battles he can win

By Douglas Cohn

Syndicated columnist

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WASHINGTON — Speaker John Boehner couldn’t believe House Republicans didn’t applaud him for getting the “monkey off their back” when he relied on Democratic votes to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Almost all Republicans voted against the measure; just 28 joined all but 2 Democrats to support the increase.

Republicans wanted to attach something from their wish list to make the vote worthwhile for them, but they couldn’t agree on what that would be. Boehner finally threw up his hands when he realized he couldn’t get the necessary 218 votes from Republicans for anything.

Let’s give Boehner credit for recognizing the futility of continuing to bargain with his caucus, and moving on cleanly and quickly. He faces a conservative revolt, but then what else is new. Boehner has been at odds with his Tea Party faction ever since they arrived in Washington three years ago.

He followed them over the cliff with last year’s government shutdown, and this time he wasn’t going to let them box him in again. Boehner’s capitulation to the White House and Democrats who wanted the debt ceiling raised without strings shows his keen grasp of the obvious: If Republicans want to keep control of the House and win back the Senate, they have to focus on a battle they can win, and it’s not the debt ceiling.

Two of the principles of war, “mass and economy of force,” sum up the GOP’s dilemma. In order to mass their attack on Obamacare, they have to pull back elsewhere. In other words, fight the battle they think they can win, where they believe the public is with them, and forget about debt and default. The public reacts negatively to putting the Treasury’s full faith and credit and risk, and the deficit is falling so fast, it’s not the defining issue it once was.

Give credit to the voters too. They’ve figured out that Congress has the power of the purse, and House members can’t vote to spend money and then decide they’re not going to pay the bills. Obama and the Democrats won that argument.

Which political party ultimately wins on Obamacare will be fought out all year with the verdict rendered in the November midterm elections. Republicans are convinced that the health care law is their silver bullet for maintaining control of the House and winning back the Senate. Democrats believe that the Affordable Care Act will take its place alongside Social Security and Medicare as a vital and popular program, but worry that well-funded Republican attacks could take their toll in the November elections.

In the end both parties are massing their forces to fight the battle over Obamacare, which is why issues such as the debt ceiling will no longer be factors by election day. It is all a matter of mass and economy of force.

U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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