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Martin Dyckman: Try coalition politics; it may tame the ‘suicide caucus’

It’s almost possible to feel sorry for John Boehner. The once-powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, a man of proven substance, finds himself cast as a helpless figurehead in a drama with potentially tragic consequences for himself and his country.

If he’s to be rehabilitated, if the country is to be saved, it’s the Democrats who’ll have to do it.

Here’s how.

Minority leader Nancy Pelosi should go to Boehner and tell him this:

“John, if you’ll put a vote on the floor for a clean budget resolution, you’ll have our back.  If your party tries to dump you as speaker over that, you’ll have Democratic votes to keep the gavel.”

Boehner could always do the right thing, of course, without Democratic backing. That would be courageous.

But if the Republicans did dump him, who would they likely elect in his place? Someone worse. Paul Ryan, perhaps.

If this suggestion to Pelosi sounds radical, it’s not half as radical as the idea that a minority faction in a minority party can hold the entire country hostage to its hatred for President Obama and his signature health-care law.

What I am proposing is simply old-fashioned coalition politics. That’s common in parliamentary democracies abroad and not unheard of even in American state legislatures.

Coalition politics is the only way to function in a multi-party system, like Israel’s or (at present) Great Britain, where no one party holds a clear majority.

The reality is that the United States has become like them, in fact if not in name. Ours is no longer a two-party nation. The Congress is no longer a two-party legislature.

One of those parties is the Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate but a minority in the House.

Another is the Republican Party, which nominally controls the House.

But it is been infiltrated, like the AIDS virus infesting a healthy white blood cell, by a new third party, the Tea Party.

Although it’s not officially chartered as a party in any state, it clearly functions like one.

But it does not have enough strength or popularity to elect members of Congress in its own right. So it has seized power the easy way: by taking control of its host.

If that host, the Republican Party, is to survive, its members who are not Tea Party fanatics, the moderates who are privately expressing their grief to Boehner, must find a way to expel the virus and take their party back.

It hasn’t been heard from Boehner himself, but some Republicans who have met with him say he has promised not to let the country go into default when it hits the debt limit on Oct. 17.

That would be many times worse than the current partial shutdown. The government would be unable to refinance its existing debt with new treasury bills. Its credit would collapse, everyone’s cost of borrowing would soar, the country would be hurled into a deep recession — or worse –and our influence abroad would be shattered.

It’s good to hear that Boehner recognizes the danger. But will he be able to act against it?

Will the Suicide Caucus — as the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer brilliantly named the 80 House crazies whose Aug. 21 letter to Boehner put him on the spot –retaliate with a vote to depose the Speaker?

Would enough other Republicans be cowed into going along with them?

Quite possibly. They’ve shown that they scare easily these days.

Remember, though, that the Speaker is actually elected by all 435 members, not just the majority party. If all 201 Democrats voted in support of Boehner, he’d need only 17 courageous Republicans to join them.

Surely there must be at least that many.

Who knows? The mere threat of a coalition might suffice to embolden some reasonable Republicans and tame the Suicide Caucus.

There may be no better way to save our Constitution in the present crisis and teach the Tea Party some respect for it.

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