Speaker of the House John Boehner didn't know it, but for two years he was in heaven. From 2008 to 2010, Boehner's job as minority leader was to keep the House Republicans voting as a solid block.
He succeeded. Republican strategy dictated opposing everything President Obama proposed until the public, sick of no progress, kicked the Democrats out. With heel-clicking unity they did just that. Strategy ruled.
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Strategy ruled even when that meant denying health care to New York City's 9/11 emergency responders, or withholding unemployment benefits for the jobless, or destroying job-creating proposals
Republicans opposed everything for two years so that, come 2011, Rep. Boehner would become Speaker Boehner. From that point on, with Republicans in the House majority, there was supposed to be clear sailing.
Except, things are not working out as planned. Republican unity vanished when tea party Republicans were elected. This voting block handed Boehner a fifth stunning defeat. Tea party Republicans mostly, 110 strong, voted to support President Obama's cost-cutting by scrapping a jet fighter engine the military itself doesn't want.
What made this defeat more spectacular is that Boehner personally wanted the jet fighter engine. It's important because traditionally what the speaker wants, the speaker gets. Not this time.
The Republican division is a very important fact. It means we just might actually get a bipartisan budget out of this Congress. Some might think I'm sniffing glue given that the tea party Republicans want to slash more from Obama's budget than the Republican leadership.
In fact, finding common ground will require a near miracle, considering the Congress will shortly have three separate budget proposals before them: The White House budget, the Republican Budget, and a budget put together by Senate Democrats.
Yes, the Senate Democratic Budget means the Democrats are also divided. But, their division is not nearly as meaningful in Congress reaching a bipartisan budget as the Republican Divide is.
The Republican leadership's strategy continues to be to oppose the president on every issue. They chose to position themselves so that they never, ever will compromise. Except victory depends on Boehner's hell going away. It depends on the return of Republican voting in a solid block. That's not going to happen.
Here's the distinction between the Republican approach to the budget and the tea party Republican approach: The Republicans are playing a strategy game; while the tea party members are on a mission.
I base my analysis on this reality: For tea party Republicans, strategy follows principle, not the other way around, as the Republican leadership does it.
A democratic aide to a New York Congressman told a member of my staff this week, "No matter what Obama proposed, the Republicans were going to say the cuts were too few. If Obama cut one 1 trillion and eight thousand, they would propose a cut for one trillion and nine thousand dollars."
A good example of principle following strategy is this: Boehner has talked for two years about "job killing" Democratic proposals. This week, when he proposed killing 200,000 federal jobs, he shrugged off the potential loss with the following response: "So be it."
Strategy over principle. Here's another example. John Boehner wants cuts, over Obama's cuts, which will take 3,000 cops off American streets. But Boehner increased the budget for the Capitol police, who protect 536 senators and representatives and their staffs, by millions.
The rationale is reasonable: Millions upon millions more are needed to meet an increase in threats to members of Congress. Still, violence has increased across America with school shootings, rising street crime and attempted terrorist attacks such as the one in Times Square, where the police are on the front line.
But cutting 3,000 police means Boehner can play one-upmanship with Obama's budget. He and the Republicans cut them just so they can point to making bigger cuts. And if that means, dear reader, that you are less protected on your streets, in John Boehner's words, "So be it."
However, the tea party Republicans are on a mission to reduce spending, in order to reduce government. They also want, if I hear them right, to reduce spending to help save America from a disastrous deficit.
So, following their principles, if increasing expenditures to boost the economy, to produce more revenue, to cut the deficit, then the tea party Republicans, likely, will support it. Principle over strategy.
The bottom line is that the Republican leadership -- although giving lip service to bipartisan cuts -- will seek partisan goals first. And tea party Republicans will seek common goals first.
This is fact: For the sake of strategy, Republicans are willing to sacrifice anything. And if that strategy means (as their cynical budget cuts propose) handing 65,000 teachers pink slips, "So be it."
© 2011, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.