Speaker-to-be John Boehner: More confrontation or a hint of compromise?
After a House Republican landslide, presumptive Speaker John Boehner will have to handle a wounded President Obama and tea party lawmakers emboldened by their success. In a Monitor interview, Boehner suggests ways that he might be able to bridge the gap between the two.
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Former GOP majority leader Dick Armey sees him as Dean Martin without the piano – someone who makes everything look easy. “He is a man wholly without guile,” says Mr. Armey. “I don’t think John Boehner has ever spent a moment of his life in intrigue with respect to anyone else. He is a serious workman and, unlike some previous speakers, doesn’t require attention. He’ll get the job done with little fanfare. It’s not about him.”Skip to next paragraph
Now in his second rise up House leadership ranks, Boehner has built a staff on and off Capitol Hill and a network of loyalists and donors so durable that it has a name: Boehner Land. He is often caricatured for the color of his skin – a famously deep tan – but he may be more notable for the thickness of his skin. He’s a survivor of fierce intraparty power struggles. If he holds grudges, it doesn’t show. He likes to quote Reagan: Disagree without being disagreeable.
Boehner has been willing to reach across the aisle. In the first year of the George W. Bush administration, he forged an unlikely alliance with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller (D) of California to move President Bush’s top domestic priority: education reform. Notably, he did so over the strong opposition of powerful GOP colleagues.
But Democrats insist that Boehner’s past record of bipartisanship has been more than eclipsed by his switch to relentless opposition in the Obama years. “Our work together on No Child Left Behind was one moment in time that has itself been left behind,” said Mr. Miller, now chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, in a statement. “Everything since has been partisan opposition to issues of great importance to America’s middle class.”
Under Boehner’s leadership, House Republicans counted it a victory to unanimously oppose the Obama administration’s $814 billion stimulus plan, health-care reform, financial regulation, and small business tax cuts. On the House floor, he turned “Hell, no…!” into a mantra during the health-care debate and, more recently, while campaigning for Republican candidates. President Obama, in turn, repeatedly labeled Boehner an obstructionist out of touch with the needs of the middle class.
Will it now be confrontation or compromise?
What he would do with the gavel
When former Rep. Dennis Hastert (R) of Illinois was speaker, he set as a principle that he would only bring legislation to the floor if it had the support of “a majority of the majority.” Boehner says he would not insist on that threshold, noting that he wants to open up the legislative process. That would make the chamber more democratic – with a decidedly small "d" – but it would also come with risks. Democrats could use amendments to maximize tough votes for the GOP majority – a standard tactic for the party out of power – and put vulnerable freshmen at risk in 2012.