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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“I said in 1991 and I’ll say it today: What do we have to fear in allowing the House to work its will?” Boehner said in the interview. “All 435 of us represent 650,000 to 700,000 Americans. Every member ought to have the chance to represent the views of his or her constituents.”Skip to next paragraph
To do that, Boehner would have to direct the Rules Committee – which in recent years has grown more restrictive in offering opportunities to the minority – to change course. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute last month, he called on Congress to rewrite the Budget Act of 1974 to make it easier to rein in deficits and pass spending cuts. He also called for a more open debate process and moving power out of the speaker’s office to committees. “In too many instances,” he said, “we no longer have legislators; we just have voters.”
He ended that speech by quoting Nicholas Longworth, a former House speaker from 1925-31, who, like Boehner, was from Cincinnati. Mr. Longworth aimed to make the House more effective – to become, he said, “the most dominant legislative assembly in the world.” Boehner called for empowering all members through committee work and possibly amending bills on the floor. “We should open things up and let the battle of ideas help break down the scar tissue between the two parties,” he said.
Boehner and Obama
Despite their considerable differences, Boehner insists he could work with Mr. Obama. He says he and the president are “not close, but we get along fine.”
“I’ve made it pretty clear that I came here to fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government; that we need to focus on getting the economy moving again and creating jobs in America,” he said. “And to the extent that he’s willing to work with us on that agenda, I welcome the relationship.”
But Boehner’s rapport with Obama will be critically affected by the changing tenor of the House Republican caucus. When Boehner said on CBS’s "Face the Nation" on Sept. 12 that he is open to voting for an extension of the Bush tax cuts that excludes Americans making more than $250,000, if that’s the only option, House Republicans balked. GOP whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia fired off a statement the next day opposing that approach without mentioning Boehner. Boehner quickly dropped the point.
Boehner also embraced many tea party themes during the campaign, which he will now be expected to follow through on. On Sept. 23, House Republicans released a 45-page “Pledge to America” that called, among other things, for the repeal of “the government takeover of health care.” Many tea partyers have repeated their intent to do so in the wake of the election as well as to push for a huge reduction in government spending. Obama has said only that he will consider “improvements” in the health-care legislation and is willing to seek “common ground” on budget cuts.