What’s the only thing more certain than Ben Franklin’s “death and taxes?” Why, it’s a congressional deadlock over spending or an increased federal debt ceiling.
And what’s so predictable about that deadlock? The debate will be filled with political cliches and someone will inevitably charge that the opposition wants to “kick the can down the road*” or “over the fiscal cliff.”
There’s no monopoly on cliches. Both parties even use the same ones, especially the one about kicking that can.
House Speaker John Boehner is the master of “kick the can.” He denounced its use when he took the speaker’s post early in 2011: “No longer can we kick the can down the road.” Despite his repeated harangues against that practice, he has made that kick several times.
Boehner just scuffed another shoe when his House Republicans adopted a continuing resolution to “kick the [spending] can down the road” one more time. His closet must be full of nearly new left shoes because, as a conservative, he only kicks that can with his right foot.
While both Democrats and Republicans denounce those who would play “kick the can,” the Democratic Senate and the Republican House both “kicked the can down the road” a little last week. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate adopted a spending resolution that would fund the government only until Nov. 15. Boehner’s House, perhaps seeking a little more time to obfuscate the health care issue, kicked the can further, funding all but Obamacare until Dec. 15.
The spending deadline has brought forth cliches from legislators on both sides of the aisle. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer charged that Republican insistence on dumping Obamacare “held hostage” millions of innocent people. Reid, appealing to those Americans still fretting about gun violence, virtually called Republicans terrorists as he re-worked another cliche, saying that Republicans held a “gun to the head of the American people.” Even the president couldn’t resist using the hostage cliche: “We will not negotiate with hostage takers.”
If Reid or Schumer wear the same size as Boehner perhaps they can use his pile of left shoes! They both voted to “kick the can” to mid November. Could it be that Republicans, who outkicked their opponents by a full month, have a stronger leg than Democrats?
A senator as erudite as Republican Rand Paul couldn’t avoid the cliches. Last week, criticizing Democratic refusal to give in on the health-care issue, he charged that for the obstinate Reid it was either “my way or the highways.”
Other Republicans couldn’t avoid the usual reference to “tax and spend,” which ought to be “borrow and spend,” or that old war horse, “Democrats would balance the budget on the backs of our children and grandchildren.”
But Boehner is currently the master of the partisan cliche. He is more closely associated with “kick the can down the road” than anyone else. He has used the phrase so often that one can imagine that at some point in the distant future, when he has entered that eternal sleep, he will be eulogized for his courage on the long, bumpy political road he followed. His eulogist will note that road finally came to an end.
“For Boehner, as for the rest of us, we all must at some time down the road kick the can.”
Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona and an occasional contributor to Stephens Media.