House Speaker John Boehner, who’s spent the past two years trying to work with President Barack Obama, finally appears to understand what he’s up against.
“In our meetings before Christmas, the President was so tired of me talking about when we were going to deal with an entitlement crisis that he looked at me and said: ‘Boehner, we don’t have a spending problem. We have a health care problem,'” he said in remarks before the group. “It gives you some idea of the challenge that we’re facing. For a guy who’s run up the deficit 60 percent–60 percent of the deficit has occurred under his watch–when you see this, and then you hear him say: ‘I am not going to negotiate on the debt limit. I am not going to deal with the debt limit. That’s Congress’s problem!’… Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible.”
Conservatives in the House Republican caucus have been arguing that about the president for years. While many of them like Boehner as a person–he’s known around Washington as quite personable–they don’t like how he’s dealt with the president over the past couple years. Some conservative members were so upset with Boehner that they plotted a coup d’état against him at the beginning of the Congress. While only 12 members either abstained or voted for others as Speaker on January 3–17 votes for another individual was necessary to force a second ballot, at which point he’d have likely been unseated–there were many more who backed out at the last minute.
Boehner joked about that scenario during his remarks to the Ripon Society on Tuesday. “When [former Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Oxley] was giving me this introduction, he talked about how ‘nobody’s questioned my integrity, nobody’s questioned my patriotism, nobody’s questioned my conservatism,'” he said to laughter. “Huh? Where the hell have you been?”
While he might jest about almost losing his job now, Boehner’s been forced to be more aggressive and more conservative as Speaker since his re-election into the position.
Boehner made many concessions to House conservatives right before the vote for his Speakership, concessions he’s thus far continued keeping–a victory for the conservatives who stood up to him. He said he wouldn’t negotiate directly with the president anymore. He hasn’t, at least not yet.
And Boehner promised the House would operate through the regular order as the Constitution calls for. It has, at least thus far.
His “No Budget, No Pay,” plan–in which lawmakers would lose their paychecks if the House and Senate don’t pass a budget–appears to be working. Not only does it mesh with his new promises, he was able to force Senate Democrats to agree to pass a budget for the first time in four years.
The question is when push comes to shove, and their backs are against the wall, whether Boehner and company will stand up and get the job done. Boehner acknowledges the road will be tough. “These next couple of weeks, next couple of months, frankly, the next 20 months, are going to be a very difficult period for us,” he said. “While we want to stand up and fight for more fiscal responsibility, want to stand up and find a way to move tax reform that will help our economy grow, to do the things we believe in, we’re going to be doing it in an environment that is going to be far more hostile than anything that I think we’ve seen for a long, long time. We’re going to have to make some big decisions about how we as a party take on this challenge. Where’s the ground that we fight on? Where’s the ground that we retreat on? Where are the smart fights? Where are the dumb fights that we have to stay away from? We’ve got a lot of big decisions to make.”
WATCH VIDEO OF BOEHNER’S SPEECH: