For the first time in more than a year, House Speaker John A. Boehner expressed confidence that lawmakers will agree to a deficit-reduction deal and recalcitrant conservatives will be persuaded to raise the government’s borrowing limit – as long as Russian president Vladimir V. Putin is given a seat at the negotiating table.
“We’ve seen what he can do with Syria, which was skillful, but let’s put him to the real negotiating test. Let’s see what he can do with Congress,” Mr. Boehner said.
Mr. Boehner, appearing upbeat and even more tanned than usual, said he was encouraged after meeting with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders on Thursday and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday. Mr. Boehner said, he had sought a resumption of interference in U.S. affairs by Mr. Putin, describing such an intrusion as the best hope for keeping the government running and scaring obstinate conservatives back into line.
“I think we all left those meetings with a sense that this is a difficult problem and we are going to have to find someone more difficult than any of us to fix it,” Mr. Boehner said.
A little more than a week ago the speaker seemed at wit’s end, beaten into frustration by a bloc of 43 House Republicans determined to undercut his deficit-reduction focus and force a government shutdown over Obamacare.
But that was before Mr. Boehner began to consider what Mr. Putin might be able to accomplish using the full faith and credit of the Russian presidency to resolve divisions in the Republican ranks and stamp out the partisanship that has divided the country’s two major political parties.
“It’s time for the president – and by that I mean the Russian president – and it’s time for us in Congress to show the courage to work together to solve this problem,” said Mr. Boehner.
The speaker acknowledged that the Russian leader’s brusque managerial style may take some getting used to.
“I hear he sometimes shows up to meetings without a shirt and likes to arm-wrestle to prove his point,” Mr. Boehner said. “But we all have different approaches to leadership. And perhaps knowing that you may be jailed or that your next re-election may be rigged in favor of your opponent if you fail to get in line will help break the gridlock here.”
He said a fresh line of attack by an outsider – even a shirtless and ruthless one - might be just what is needed to jump-start negotiations on a budget deal and an agreement to raise the nation’s debt limit
“If we are looking for someone who can bring peace to Syria and war to the U.S. Congress – and I think we are – then I believe we have our man and we need look no further to find him than out across Sarah Palin’s backyard,” Mr. Boehner said.
Page 2 of 2 - And with no homegrown resolution in sight, and Republican leaders saying decisions would have to be made next week on a way forward - with Democratic votes, or Republican unity - Mr. Boehner said it is time to give Mr. Putin his chance at fixing the mess.
“There are a million options that are being discussed by a lot of people,” the House speaker said. “But there is only one option that makes sense.”
Mr. Putin appears to have taken Mr. Boehner’s overture to heart. In an op-ed to be published in tomorrow’s New York Times, Mr. Putin writes, “I welcome the House speaker’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on U.S. budget talks and the debt ceiling. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.”
Some U.S. lawmakers also seemed open to trying out the Russian president’s leadership.
“It’s fair to say it looks a little gimmicky, but at least it would prevent a government shutdown,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, adding that Mr. Putin’s ascension to the leadership position in Washington would provide an important reminder for “Republicans to stop pretending that Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader and Mitt Romney is the president,” referring to Mr. McConnell of Kentucky, who as leader of Senate Republicans heads the minority party.
And conservatives who say they are tired of losing, seemed at least open to the idea of teaming up with an ironfisted leader who seems unbeatable.
Former Senator Jim DeMint, who now heads the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, demanded an end to “pretend votes” and “pretend leadership” in daring the House to follow the lead of Mr. Putin. And conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III insisted that the Russian president be made point man for the budget negotiations, saying he’ll accept nothing less.
Mr. Boehner remained hopeful that Congress will accept Mr. Putin’s guidance.
“Once we get out of the way,” he said, “there is no telling what might be accomplished.”
Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at email@example.com.