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.
(Page 2 of 2)
The freshmen pushed for more. A conservative amendment to lop off another $22 billion fell short, as senior Republicans, including majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, broke ranks with more conservative members and voted with Democrats to reject the measure. (The Speaker of the House rarely votes.)
In the old command-and-control style House, that rift could be viewed as a challenge to leadership. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California maintained famously tight discipline in Democratic ranks, allowing not a single a single amendment on health care reform.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Boehner says it’s just what he wants.
“This open debate is teaching a lot of members to be legislators,” he said, in remarks to journalists on Friday. “Half of the freshmen have never served in public office. Allowing them to participate in this will speed up their development as legislators.”
This is vintage Boehner, who helped lead the Republican revolution that took back the House in 1995, then fell out of leadership in the hard-driving, top-down Speakership of Newt Gingrich, the first Republican Speaker in more than 40 years.
Even then, Boehner’s mantra was: “What do we have to fear from letting the House work its will?” Now, he has a chance to test the thesis.
“If we’re able to continue with as open a process as we can have, it will drive major change in the institution,” he said on Friday. “With an open process that respects the work of committees, you’ll see more working across the aisles and more healthy debate…. All of our differences get thawed out on the floor of the House.”
'My job is not to enforce my will'
Asked whether he can control the 87-member freshmen class, he said: “Our job is not to have control over them. That’s not the way the House should be run…. My job is to protect the institution, not enforce my will … to restore an institution that has been badly damaged over a long time.”
That’s exactly what concerns Senate Democrats, who now must decide how to come to terms with a bill that both majority leader Harry Reid and President Obama have rejected.
Boehner announced on Thursday that he will not accept an extension of the continuing resolution (CR) now funding government without spending cuts. If the House and Senate do not agree on a bill to fund the government by March 4, the government shuts down.
“We’re terribly disappointed that Speaker Boehner can’t control the votes in his caucus to prevent a shutdown of government. And now he’s resorting to threats to do just that, without any negotiations,” said Senator Reid, in a brief press conference on Thursday. “That is not permissible. We will not stand for that. He’s wrong.”
On the House side, Democrats say that a shutdown is looking more likely if Boehner cannot rein in his troops.
Democrats: 'Boehner is being reckless'
Boehner’s comments that he cannot control the freshmen are an “honest admission,” but by refusing to accept anything from the Senate but more cuts, “the Speaker has put himself in a corner,” Andrews adds. “It’s reckless.”
“Many Democrats hope that Boehner has the strength to lead them, because we have to make compromises,” says Congressman Frank. “You have to show some responsibility, if you become Speaker.”
Maybe so, but the 87-member out-of-control gorilla in the room is also a powerful bargaining chip. Responding to criticism when he failed to pass legislation sent over by then-majority House Democrats, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said: I can count. I don’t have the votes.
Boehner and the freshmen are facing two other major votes on spending: Next, a vote to pass a budget resolution for FY 2012 and, later this spring, a highly controversial vote to raise the national debt limit above $14.3 trillion.
“These will be the most important two or three months we’ve seen in this town in a decade,” he said, on Friday. Then, he smiled.