Bob Dole for Speaker of the House!

9/28/2013 06:05:00 PM
...ok, he might be a little old.

There's a lot of talk that the Speaker of the House could be replaced soon due to the budget resolution and debt ceiling madness. The republican party never much liked the current Speaker, John Boehner, who won the position mostly because he raised a ton of campaign cash for a ton of GOP candidates (made possible largely because his district has been thoroughly uncompetitive for decades). I still think that replace-the-speaker rumors don't give enough credit to Boehner's ample coffers, but it remains a tantalizing proposition.

At issue is the fact that the current GOP caucus--with a historically small majority by just 33 seats--is split between an old guard faction with roughly 93 seats and the new tea party faction with 140 seats. Who is really in which camp is debatable, but we do know that Boehner is solidly in the old guard.The old guard basically acknowledge that democrats control two out of three pieces of the constitutional legislative process, and that therefore they should make compromises to pass important legislation. The Tea Party thinks that they compromise too much and instead should use their House majority to take every bill, every deadline hostage in order to govern solely from the House of Representatives. As Matt Yglesias points out, it is a strategy that has overturned constitutions often enough before, as the 1,100 still-living expelled members of the House of Lords will attest.

The problem that the tea partiers face is that while their party has a house majority, their faction does not. All of the laws passed under the republican majority were passed with a majority democrat, not majority republican, support. Only 33 republican votes are needed to pass democratic measures, and the only reason that doesn't happen more often is because the Speaker--who was elected by republicans only--has unilateral control over which bills the House votes on.

But here's the rub: the House can hold a vote on the Speaker at any time. Who ever wins a majority wins the Speakership. Who ever wins. That's right, there is no qualification at all. The Speaker does not have to be a member of the House of Representatives.

This raises an interesting possibility. Democrats won't find any republicans willing to break with their party to vote for Pelosi or any other democratic candidate for speaker. They need at least 33 republican votes to oust Boehner. Maybe there are some republican back-benchers who would be willing to betray their caucus, cut a deal with the democrats, and attract 32 other republican votes to install himself as speaker. If not, that's where Bob Dole comes in. Maybe we can't get 200 democrats and 33 republicans united around any of the current house members, but we could unite them around a less partisan, semi-legendary statesman whose name hasn't been soiled by this House's ideological fights.

Bob Dole is one such figure. And his qualifications are impeccable: he was the republican presidential nominee, and republican senate majority leader. Oh yeah, and he also ended the last government shutdown. He is respected by the GOP and could win 33 House votes for sure. As a compromiser and pro-food-stamps, his interests are also aligned with the current democrats' objectives. Sure, he's too old to do much, but fortunately in the current environment there isn't much he'd have to do--we just need someone to put bills to the floor for a vote. That's it. 93 republicans and 200 democrats already agree on a compromise bill they will vote for. We just need a speaker who will call the vote.