CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Oct. 3, 2011 – 10:46 p.m.
For Boehner, Uneasy Reliance on Democrats
By Richard E. Cohen, CQ Staff
But Boehner will probably once again need support from Democrats to advance the continuing resolution (
Having to rely on help from the minority to pass essential legislation is an awkward but increasingly familiar position for the first-term Speaker. Republicans did not muster enough votes from their side of the aisle to clear a fiscal 2011 spending package (PL 112-8) in April or the debt limit and deficit reduction law (PL 112-25) in August.
With Democrats controlling the Senate and a Democrat in the White House, Boehner cannot legislate without making deals across the aisle. But unable to count on backing from the most conservative faction of his conference, the Speaker risks an embarrassing defeat if Democrats withhold their support. And if he gets the votes he needs, he risks alienating tea party activists who play an increasingly prominent role in the GOP.
The pattern appears likely to continue. On the horizon are an omnibus fiscal 2012 spending package, possible recommendations from the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and a Senate-passed worker-retraining measure (
By choice or out of necessity, Boehner and his leadership team — including Majority Leader
Last month, when Boehner and his leadership team returned from the August recess with a plan to temper partisan combat and advance a GOP economic agenda, he found himself facing another conservative revolt over the stopgap spending measure. The stopgap embraced the fiscal 2012 spending level agreed to in the compromise that resolved the debt limit showdown before the recess, but some conservatives wanted more cuts and voted to reject an initial version. The bill was defeated when 48 Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in opposition.
Clearing the Senate-passed revised version of the continuing resolution to keep the government operating through Nov. 18 should be relatively easy Tuesday, with Democratic votes more than offsetting GOP defections.
Uncertainty over lawmakers backed by the tea party has become standard fare for Boehner and his leadership team and has, at times, sidelined other priorities.
In February, conservatives forced Boehner to make additional spending cuts beyond what he had worked out with his Appropriations and Budget chairmen in a fiscal 2011 continuing resolution (PL 112-8) that the House had approved after a weeklong debate that month.
At the height of this summer’s lengthy debate over raising the debt ceiling, the Speaker again was forced to regroup when conservatives declared his initial proposal lacking and demanded that any deal reflect a “cut, cap and balance” bill (
For Boehner, Uneasy Reliance on Democrats
Boehner has felt tea party pressure from his own back yard. Activists from West Chester, Ohio, sent him letters saying the debt ceiling increase conflicted with the GOP’s campaign platform. And one local activist, David Lewis, announced last month that he will challenge Boehner in next spring’s primary.
Return to Deregulatory Agenda
Later this week, House leaders will try to pivot back to reducing regulations, with floor consideration of a bill to limit environmental regulations on the boiler industry (
Boehner’s team says the majority has succeeded in reshaping the policy agenda and is responding to voters’ desire to trim spending, ease regulation and work with Democrats to get things done.
“We want to do the House’s business without drama,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. He cited last month’s extension of highway and airport programs (PL 112-30), along with progress in moving the long-delayed bilateral trade deals and accompanying worker-assistance reauthorization.
But action on the transportation programs came only after a conservative revolt resulted in a partial FAA shutdown this summer.
Republicans say the most recent standoff over the stopgap spending bill was sparked after Democratic leaders walked away from a bipartisan agreement the House Appropriations Committee had approved. The initial House defeat of the measure Sept. 21 was followed by a lengthy Boehner- led discussion in the Republican Conference and House passage of virtually the same bill the next day.
Democrats say the struggle between House GOP leaders and rank-and-file conservatives has dominated the year and that they see little reason to expect it to subside. “Boehner can’t rely on 218 Republican votes,” a House Democratic leadership aide said. “So they have had to rely on Democratic votes on every major bill.”
Leading a House majority typically has its difficulties, regardless of the circumstances. When
Boehner emphasizes that he is more comfortable than his predecessors with allowing his conference to “work its will” and says hard-nosed tactics and threats can be counterproductive. Republicans point to the Democrats’ 63-seat loss in last year’s elections as evidence of Pelosi’s poor leadership.
“He prefers not to be reliant on Democrats,” Gingrey said. “It would be problematic if that happened all of the time. But it’s not a problem, because we are winning on the House floor and in the court of public opinion.”
As an election year approaches, Boehner may find that Republicans facing tough re-election campaigns are eager to show independence from the leadership.
The Speaker’s allies counter that the maturing of the House majority may produce growing cohesion.