Four Questions House Republicans Should Answer

The crisis in Washington is over -- for now. Yet who could possibly have confidence in this Congress? Or, to put a finer point on it, confidence in the Republicans of this Congress? Not even their own supporters seem to have much. The party’s appetite for brinkmanship has cut the nation’s growth, raised its borrowing costs (and thus the deficit), pummeled consumer confidence and made a mockery of the U.S. government.

Any time a political party causes so much damage, it gives rise to questions -- questions better asked, if not answered, after the heat of the crisis has passed. Here are a few.

-- Who’s in charge?

We’re not taunting; we honestly don’t know. Republican Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania told the Washington Post, “There are at least 180 or 190 members who are part of the governing wing of the House GOP conference.” In other words: There is no governing majority in the House, where 218 votes are needed to pass legislation.

Granted, governing coalitions can shift from vote to vote, but House Speaker John Boehner has been unable to maintain a viable majority relying on fractious Republicans alone. In pursuit of partisan unity, however, he executed a calamitous strategy that he had publicly opposed, bringing the U.S. to the brink of default either to appease his Tea Party colleagues or to encourage them to see the error of their ways. (Come to think of it, that’s a good question, too: Mr. Speaker, which was it?)

-- What do you want?

Presuming you can form a functional majority, what would you do with it? The government shutdown began with a demand to defund Obamacare, shifted to vague demands about debt and, at the eleventh hour, included a (comical if it hadn’t been so cruel) demand that congressional staff members pay for their own health care.

Yes, yes, we have read the party platform -- most of it, anyway -- and about the so-called Williamsburg Accord, and your list of what you wanted in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt limit. That was a good one. But politics is all about priorities. What’s your top one? Or two? And then:

-- What are you willing to do to get it?

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has lamented the “bleak future” the nation faces without overhauling entitlements. Other Republicans speak in more apocalyptic terms about the national debt. Yet it can be hard to identify any concessions you are willing to make to forestall this grim vision. What are they?

Not everyone enters politics eager to compromise, and many Republican voters don’t like it. Yet politics is impossible without compromise -- especially when, as now, there is divided government. Which leads, finally, to our last question:

-- Do you really want to go through all this again in a few months?

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