All this year, House Speaker John Boehner has been taking criticism from all quarters.
He is a squish selling out to the Obama administration and the Democrats, many conservatives charged when he engineered bipartisan (mostly Democratic) approval of higher tax rates on high earners rather than go over the fiscal cliff.
He is a radical hostage-taking Confederate-sympathizing terrorist, cried Democrats when he led House Republicans to pass a bill refunding the government but defunding Obamacare.
He is irresponsible and obdurate, cried high-minded supporters of a grand bargain including entitlement reform, because he resolutely refused to negotiate with President Obama.
He is a squish selling out -- you know the rest -- yelled some conservatives last week when he rallied votes, successfully, for the bipartisan budget agreement hammered out by House and Senate Budget Chairmen Paul Ryan and Patty Murray.
Undoubtedly, some of these criticisms were sincere. Rational arguments could be and sometimes were made in their support. On occasion, Boehner seemed to be stumbling from one stance to something like its opposite.
But I would argue that the cumulative result, in terms of budget, spending and tax policy, is far more favorable for Republicans and conservatives than they had any right to anticipate given the correlation of political forces after the November 2012 election.
Obama had just become only the 17th man to be reelected president in 220 years. (I'm counting Grover Cleveland, who was beaten for reelection in 1888 and came back to win a rematch four years later.)
Democrats had, against considerable odds and with the incalculably valuable aid of some hapless Republican nominees, not only held on to their majority in the Senate, but had increased it from 53-47 to 55-45.
Boehner's House Republicans had lost only eight seats. But Republican candidates had actually won fewer popular votes than Democrats. (Two-thirds of that margin came from eight California districts where, thanks to that state's new law, there were no Republican nominees.)
In a House where there had been little bipartisanship in recent years, that meant that Boehner had to rally 218 of the 234 Republican members in order to pass legislation if Democrats were opposed. A defection by 17 Republicans would cut Boehner's leverage down toward zero.
And many of these Republicans were of a mind to oppose anything they thought would accommodate the Obama Democrats.
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