House Speaker John Boehner unleashes new GOP freshmen
House Speaker John Boehner is taking a sharp turn from former speaker Nancy Pelosi's command-and-control style. He's letting his new freshmen act more independently. The battle to cut spending while avoiding a government shutdown is the first test.
The schedule was shot – final votes on a massive bill to fund the government past March 4 had been set for Thursday -- the House floor had just erupted in hoots and shouts, and John Boehner, Speaker of the House for just 45 days, was beaming.
“This was like diving off a 50-foot diving board your first dive – to do all of government,” the Ohio Republican told a handful of reporters in an impromptu meeting Friday night, just off the House floor. “There’s no example of the People’s House better than what you’ve seen here. They’ve had a real debate, and they loved it.”
Not everyone loved it. Senior Democrats – who had seen their legacy on issues ranging from health care reform and financial regulation to greening initiatives in the Capital defunded by the new majority this week – called it a travesty.
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“The only good thing about it is that it will go nowhere,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, whose signature Wall Street reform law was drained of resources by floor votes this week.
But for the bumper crop of Republican freshmen – the engine of the new majority – this week marked a decisive coming out.
Many waited until late Friday night to present their own amendments to an omnibus bill to scale back a projected $1.6 trillion deficit for FY 2011. The right to offer amendments on legislation had all but disappeared in the highly polarized House in recent years. For a freshman to have a shot at amending a bill was an event rarer still.
This week, a dozen GOP freshmen stood up on the floor to manage their own amendments. By the end of the week, the time allotted to make their case on the floor had dropped to three minutes, including time to offer to colleagues supporting your amendment.
A new voice for farmers
Rep. Christie Koem (R) of South Dakota wanted to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from modifying air quality standards on farm dust.
“Farmers have enough uncertainty,” said Ms. Koem, a rancher whose spirited campaign and unconventional style won her a place in the House Republican leadership as a liaison to the freshmen class. Freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R) of Arkansas backed her up.
“EPA must come to realize that our food is grown in the dirt and in the process of making it, we’re going to stir up a little dust,” he said.
Speaking against the amendment, 19-term Rep. Henry Waxman, former chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, cautioned that small particulates can get into the lungs and that the Koem amendment “stops EPA from setting a standard that might be tighter, if the science dictates.”
But the new House majority was having none of it. The Koem amendment passed, 255 to 168, with 21 Democrats joining all but 4 Republicans in support.
In the end, they lopped off nearly $62 billion of spending for the fiscal year that began last October. The bill passed 235 to 189, with only three Republicans breaking ranks to vote with Democrats.