Dan Popkey: Boehner’s ‘Whale of a fight’ line makes a big splash

The speaker’s appearance in Boise advances the national debt debate.

August 31, 2013 

House Speaker John Boehner’s comments about “leveraging” the necessity to raise the U.S. debt ceiling to win entitlement reform have been frequently republished and scrolled across television screens this week.

Among those citing the Statesman’s coverage of Boehner’s remarks at Monday’s fundraiser for GOP Congressman Mike Simpson are the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

Said Boehner: “I’ve made it clear that we’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with. But I’ll say this: It may be unfair but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell spent the first 15 minutes of Tuesday night’s edition of “The Last Word” reading Boehner’s quotes and flashing a “Whale of a Fight” logo featuring Boehner and President Obama, both looking grim.

O’Donnell, a liberal commentator, marveled at Boehner making Boise a stop on his 35-day bus tour on behalf of GOP House candidates. “Idaho is the Vatican of Republicanism!” O’Donnell shouted. “His campaign energy is being used up in Idaho now fighting against an even crazier Republican than the incumbent!”

Simpson raised more than $95,000 at the Boise Centre with 430 attending a $50 lunch and 36 at a round table for high-dollar contributors. Simpson, who most Idahoans consider entirely sane, is facing tea party challenger Bryan Smith. Simpson hasn’t had a close race since his first contest in 1998.

Appearing on O’Donnell’s show was Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who wrote in a Wednesday column that a battle over raising the debt ceiling could mean “a financial crisis of epic proportions.”

“None of the safe outcomes are likely,” writes Klein. “None of them even look particularly plausible, at least right now. And that’s scary.”

More amusing coverage came from the left-wing Huffington Post, where political reporter Arthur Delaney likens Boehner to Captain Ahab losing all in his quest to slay “Moby Dick.”

“I think there’s a real John Boehner-Captain Ahab thing going on here,” says Delaney in a video accompanying an online story. Delaney allows that he’s an English major and highly recommends an annotated version of “Moby Dick.”

My review of the stories quoting Boehner suggests the left was more interested than the right. For example, a New York Times editorial Wednesday dinged Boehner, saying, “Instead of reminding lawmakers that they are obligated to pay for the debts they voted to incur, he is once again waving the dull saber of default.”

Other liberal outlets picking up the story include The New Republic, Talking Points Memo and The Atlantic.

But conservatives also took notice, including John Hinderaker, whose Powerline post is titled, “The Democratic Party Lies for Money.” Hinderaker includes a cartoon of a donkey in a police lineup holding a “LIAR” sign.

Hinderaker unearthed a wildly inaccurate fundraising email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, alleging Boehner is “actually threatening President Obama with this appalling choice: either agree to dismantle Medicare and Social Security — OR risk the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Hinderaker correctly pointed out that’s not what Boehner said. Rather, he was talking about leveraging the debt ceiling to accomplish reforms that sensible Democrats and Republicans have long acknowledged are necessary. To repeat Boehner’s words: “We’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.”

Also lost amid the hyperbole: Boehner said he opposes any strategy that would end in a government shutdown.

The story also was picked up by the Inside-the-Beltway troika of The Hill, Roll Call and Politico.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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