Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who started the fiscal cliff negotiations with a grand compromise offer, got as much as poked in the eye by President Barack Obama, and it didn't stop there. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called him a dictator, his own House Republicans betrayed him and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shamefully slammed him on another issue.
The old saying that no good deed goes unpunished would seem to fit, only that is inadequate when you consider the enormity of what this country faces. It's far more than the automatic tax hikes and defense cuts that were averted by a last-minute deal, but a debt threat that could turn this country upside down if nothing serious gets done. And nothing serious is getting done because, in Washington, ego, corruption and ideology are definitively in charge.
Obama has plenty of ego. He wanted Boehner to know that Mr. Greatness won the presidential election, he would decide what happens next, and if that meant salvational possibilities would then flutter out the window, so be it. As before, he muffed the negotiations and ultimately put Vice President Joe Biden in charge. When Obama flew off to Hawaii for some vacation time during the holidays, there were those of us who breathed a sigh of relief.
Biden did his give-and-take with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and there was corruption of the kind that says, look, we're going to raise some taxes and do far too little on spending to rescue the American people, but we will please some Democratic senators by giving multimillions in extended tax breaks to their super-rich filmmaking buddies in Hollywood.
Boehner had initially offered some $800 billion in new revenue through the kind of tax reform -- fewer loopholes -- that could generate economic growth. He also wanted to go after spending, which is the heart of the problem. The Biden-McConnell bargain was better than nothing, but just barely. It raised $620 billion with tax hikes of the least productive kind along with a laughable, absurd, minuscule $15 billion in spending cuts.
House Republicans had every reason to be angry, but more of them should have gone along with this handiwork just as they should earlier have stuck by Boehner when he revised his initial offer with something better than this travesty. The big question now, of course, is what comes next, and we have some hints.
Following passage of the pork-heavy legislation, Obama talked about the need to invest more in the economy, which is to say, his solution for too much spending is more spending. Democrats in Congress are talking about finding another trillion in tax increases, which is ideology gone bananas. There is also some Democratic mention of cuts, but you don't sense seriousness.
As for Boehner, re-elected speaker despite disgruntlement, he's announced he will focus on the House passing legislation it believes in instead of more fruitless sessions with the president. He also cursed Reid for his dictator speech only to have Gov. Christie of his own party denounce him for not immediately passing a disaster relief measure in response to Hurricane Sandy. The legislation did get passed fairly quickly after the elimination of billions in pork unrelated to the hurricane, and no hurt has been done to hurricane victims.
I wouldn't blame Boehner for cursing Christie, too, but he's got more important chores, such as tangling again with the raising of a debt ceiling. He's maybe the best leader in D.C. right now, and if Obama would do us the favor of more vacation time in Hawaii, maybe Boehner and others can find compromises that are also real long-term answers to some unbelievable nastiness otherwise coming our way.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.)