A time for choosing reality 

House Republican leaders announced a delay until today for a scheduled vote on Speaker John Boehner’s two-phase debt-ceiling plan, as conservative lawmakers expressed misgivings and congressional budget analysts said the plan did not deliver all its promised savings.

To govern is to choose. To vote is to choose. Voting against Boehner’s plan on the House floor in the biggest showdown of the current Congress would be choosing to vote with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. To vote against Boehner is to choose to support President Barack Obama. It is a vote to choose to increase the chances that worse legislation than Boehner’s passes.

And, ultimately, it is a vote to choose to increase the chances that Obama emerges from this showdown politically stronger. So when the Heritage Action Fund and the Club for Growth, and Sens. Vitter, Paul, et al., choose to urge House Republicans to join the Democrats to defeat Boehner, they’re choosing to side with Barack Obama.

“Unfair,” these fine groups and senators will say. We’re not siding with Obama. “We just want Boehner to do more, to go further.”

Very well, then. Can the pro-Obama right explain how defeat for Boehner on the House floor would work for the conservatives’ benefit, to their ability to do more and to go further?

They can’t explain. They don’t even pretend to explain how defeating Boehner would produce a better policy or political result for conservatives — in the near, medium or long term. That’s because they can’t explain how defeat will produce victory. Defeat will produce ... defeat. There is no path to a better conservative outcome that would follow from Boehner’s plan going down on the House floor.

This isn’t some bad bipartisan establishment deal of the sort conservatives have sometimes opposed in the past. Then conservatives were opposing Democrats as well as Republicans, and could plausibly explain why doing so was in conservative interests. Now, Heritage Action and the Club for Growth are siding with and strengthening Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They’re working to produce a policy and political defeat for John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan and the Republican majority in the House. This isn’t principled conservatism. This is self-indulgence masquerading as principle, sectarianism masquerading as conservatism.

Don’t get me wrong. The Boehner bill isn’t great. But it does check Obama’s spending for the remainder of his first term. Success for Boehner now — whatever mistakes he and others have made in recent weeks and months — makes the re-election of Obama in 2012 more difficult.

When wavering House Republicans think the current situation through, they won’t choose to join the pro-Obama right. They’ll choose to stand with John Boehner.

William Kristol is the editor of The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.

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