Jim Lee: Smart move by Boehner on debt limit

House Speaker John Boehner did the right thing last week when he pushed forward a bill to suspend the debt limit with no strings attached.

Tea partiers grumbled, of course. They apparently have very short memories, and they continue to scream and cry like spoiled toddlers whenever they don't get everything they want.

But Boehner's memory is a little better. It was just last fall, after all, when a minority contingent of tea partiers held the entire nation hostage, costing us millions of dollars and forcing a government shutdown, all in a pointless attempt to stop the Affordable Care Act.

So the contingent that screams loudest about not wasting government money is responsible for one of the biggest wastes of money in 2013. Go figure.

But that has sadly become the hallmark of this group. Their rallying cry of doing it their way or not doing it at all has reverberated from Washington across the country in recent years, and their often childish behavior and foot-stomping has pretty much brought the country to a halt.

Instead of criticizing Boehner for the vote on the debt ceiling, they should be thanking him. The speaker was absolutely on target when he said he didn't want the Republican Party to be the story. The GOP has a real chance of making some gains in the 2014 election, and each new problem with the health-care law is another tool that it can add to its war chest as it attacks Democratic opponents.

A prolonged battle over the debt ceiling would have taken us back to last fall, and Democrats would have had a field day reminding everyone, yep, here they go again. This bunch is so wrapped up in themselves and in getting what they want that they have no problem pushing the entire country over a cliff just to try and get their way.

Tea partiers, however, would still rather shoot themselves in the foot. They apparently hoped for another standoff, another weeks-long period of national ridicule and an opportunity to showcase their selfish "my way or the highway" stand.

In a story by Robert Costa posted on The Washington Post website Tuesday, Costa noted that our own Rep. Andy Harris blasted Boehner at a meeting Monday evening when the speaker revealed an earlier debt ceiling plan that did call for concessions from the Democrats. Harris, Costa wrote, "went so far as to knock Boehner as a tool of the insurance companies, due to his decision to not bring up a debt-limit plan that would address the federal health-care law's risk corridors." To their credit, other members of the GOP stood up for the speaker. "Harris was booed for the swipe and backed off," Costa wrote.

But that's what tea partiers do. They demand everyone acquiesce to their wants. Lash out in vicious personal attacks at anyone who says anything against them, and then claim that they are victims. They are the antithesis of the party that carries personal responsibility as a badge of honor. Worse, they are so self-absorbed over the obsessive need to always get their way that they don't even recognize when someone is doing them a favor.

By all rights, Boehner should have stood up to these folks a lot sooner. Perhaps last fall he just figured he'd let them learn the lesson the hard way, regardless of the damage that it did to the Republican Party. But now, with the election closer, a repeat of the brinkmanship would have halted Republican momentum and given the advantage back to the Democrats at a time when they were still trying to figure out a strategy to address all the failures with the rollout of the federal health-care program.

Boehner may have been backed into a corner, unable to muster votes for a different plan, but he did exactly what needed to be done in order to keep the heat on the Democrats. Tea partiers like Harris, however, seem determined to repeat past mistakes, even though those exact behaviors likely cost the GOP control of the Senate, and maybe even the White House, in 2012.

Someday, perhaps, this group will start to realize that you can't govern by standoff, and no matter how loudly you scream, you aren't always going to get your way.

In order for government to function in a caldron of differing interests, most often you have to give a little to get a little. In this case, Boehner gave a little, but the GOP got a lot in return.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun