The political world came to a screeching halt last Friday, when Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) announced his plans to retire from Congress on October 30th of this year. Immediately, there was a frenzy within the chambers of Congress, as Democrats congratulated Boehner for his years of service and Republicans began to look for their new leader. Over the course of the weekend, several potential candidates for Speaker, such as Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) stepped back or appeared weak with support. The Tea Party wing of the party insists they will put up a strong alternative, but as it currently stands Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the current Majority Leader, is the clear frontrunner. Democrats are on the edge of their seat, waiting for some kind of brawl, while Republicans are cautiously optimistic that the Establishment favorite can win the speakership.
But regardless of who becomes the new Speaker, the culture in Washington needs to change. Over the past six and a half years, Americans have seen some of the least productive Congresses to ever serve. While occasionally legislation breaks through, it is rare to see real negotiations take place; everything is associated with a blanket partisan position, instead of comprehensive analysis of the issues at hand. In lieu of real debate, we have seen legislators turn their attention to hot button issues, like Planned Parenthood and Climate Change, but not in order to propose legislation that stands a chance of getting the president’s signature. Instead, legislators are interested in taking hardline positions that are in sync with reality or with what the American people want.
While Speaker Boehner is not the sole culprit in creating this environment, his inability to control the House turned it into a toxic chamber where legislation rarely came out. The next Speaker needs to be willing to cast aside the partisan red meat in order to actually create an environment where compromise and debate can flourish. That task will be difficult, seeing how tensions are high and many members of the Republican caucus appear uninterested in any form of working together with President Obama. But being Speaker should mean a greater obligation to country than party. Democrats should recognize this as well, doing their best to work with the new Speaker, whoever it may be.
In a country facing adversity both home and abroad, dealing with issues ranging from student loan debt to civil rights to inequality, America deserves a Congress that will take these issues head on. Of course there will be disagreements, but the purpose of debate is to help identify common ground and craft legislation that can only take America forward. Speaker Boehner had this vision, but he couldn’t remove enough of the toxicity and vitriolic rhetoric from Washington. And while I’m sure Speaker Boehner and his critics are relieved to see him retire in just over a month, I don’t think most of the country gains any relief from this at all. Hopefully the next Speaker can find a way to bring universal relief to the American public, not just the Congress and a few loud pundits.