Leav­ing the gavel be­hind

Boehner made mark with new rules of the House

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Re­mem­ber the bad old days of ear­marks? Nei­ther do nearly 200 mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who came to Congress in 2011 or later and have never served a day when they could slip pork­bar­rel projects into bills, si­phon­ing tax­pay­ers’ money to well-con­nected con­stituents back home in ex­change for sup­port­ing bloated bills in Wash­ing­ton.

The end of ear­marks had sev­eral cham­pi­ons, but the lion’s share of credit goes to House Speaker John A. Boehner, who won his first elec­tion to Congress in 1990 on a vow that he would never take ear­marks, and who leaves this week hav­ing im­posed that ban on all of his col­leagues.

It’s one of the ma­jor ways that the 65-year-old Ohio Repub­li­can, while man­ag­ing dead­line show­downs and con­ser­va­tive re­bel­lions, has qui­etly re­shaped the House and the speak­er­ship in ways that will re­ver­ber­ate for years as law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill strug­gle to re­gain their foot­ing against an in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful ex­ec­u­tive branch.

Mr. Boehner pushed back against the Obama White House in ways big and small, flex­ing the speaker’s pow­ers to in­vite world lead­ers to ad­dress Congress, which was most vis­i­bly on dis­play this year with speeches by Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu and Pope Fran­cis; step­ping in to have lawyers de­fend the De­fense of Mar­riage Act when Pres­i­dent Obama de­clined to; hold­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. in con­tempt of Congress for re­fus­ing to co­op­er­ate with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion; and su­ing to ask judges to start ref­er­ee­ing fights when the White House pushes the bounds of leg­is­la­tion that Congress passes.

In­side the Capi­tol, mean­while, Mr. Boehner re­opened the amend­ment process, nixed the congratulatory res­o­lu­tions that had ab­sorbed an in­creas­ing amount of time on the cham­ber floor, and sought to tackle the fed­eral debt as his top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity.

“I was fair to peo­ple on both sides of the aisle, hon­est, and re­mem­bered what my first re­spon­si­bil­ity was, and that was to the in­sti­tu­tion. Around here, the mem­bers run around and do all kinds of things, but some­body has to be re­spon­si­ble for the in­sti­tu­tion, and I un­der­stood very clearly when I got this job it was my No. 1 re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he told a small group of re­porters Wed­nes­day as he looked back. “So whether it was how this place operates, whether it was a more open process on the floor, there’s a whole long list of things we’ve done on the in­sti­tu­tion side.

Along the way, he led Repub­li­cans to their big­gest House ma­jor­ity in 90 years, passed leg­is­la­tion that re­duced the un­funded li­a­bil­i­ties of Medi­care, shep­herded most of the Ge­orge W. Bush-era tax cuts into per­ma­nent law and over­saw a year-to-year drop in fed­eral spend­ing in 2012 and 2013 — the first time that had hap­pened since 1956.

“Peo­ple for­get where the Repub­li­can Party was in 2009. It was left for dead. You picked up Time mag­a­zine, they were talk­ing about how many decades we’d be in the mi­nor­ity. It was Boehner more than any­body else who uni­fied the Repub­li­can Party,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can and Boehner ally.

Time to go

Mr. Boehner an­nounced his retirement from Congress in late Septem­ber, just a day af­ter he hosted Pope Fran­cis at the Capi­tol.

He was un­der pres­sure from con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists who said he had squan­dered fights over Mr. Obama’s de­por­ta­tion amnesty for il­le­gal im­mi­grants at the be­gin­ning of this year, and again over fed­eral fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood this sum­mer.

Mr. Boehner in­sisted he could have sur­vived a vote of no con­fi­dence, but said it was time to step down.

The con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists tick off Boehner fail­ures, in­clud­ing be­ing un­able to roll back Mr. Obama’s ex­pan­sive agenda, pass­ing bills on the strength of Demo­cratic votes and go­ing too far in pun­ish­ing con­ser­va­tive dis­senters.

Some es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans, mean­while, say Mr. Boehner went too easy on the re­bel­lious con­ser­va­tives, is­su­ing weak pun­ish­ments and even re­tract­ing them in some cases af­ter a con­ser­va­tive out­cry.

Elected in 1990, Mr. Boehner was one of the rab­ble rousers of a House dom­i­nated by Repub­li­cans. He helped ex­pose the scan­dal-plagued House bank and post of­fice and quickly as­cended the rungs of lead­er­ship, win­ning the Repub­li­can con­fer­ence chair­man­ship in the 104th and 105th con­gresses. He was part of a failed coup to oust Speaker Newt Gin­grich and ended up los­ing his lead­er­ship post af­ter Repub­li­can elec­tion losses in 1998.

His rise be­gan again in 2005, af­ter Ma­jor­ity Leader Tom De­Lay stepped down. Mr. Boehner won a stun­ning out­sider’s vic­tory over Rep. Roy Blunt, Mr. De­Lay’s top deputy.

End­ing ear­marks

Mr. Boehner said he is still stunned that his col­leagues voted for him in that race, given that one of his chief pledges was to try to end ear­marks.

“I’m more sur­prised now than when we did it be­cause I re­ally never re­al­ized how ev­ery­body was in the game. When I say ev­ery­body, I mean vir­tu­ally ev­ery­body was into ear­marks. I didn’t re­al­ize I was the only one who just never did it,” he said.

Af­ter sev­eral years of in­ter­nal bat­tles, he per­suaded his Repub­li­can col­leagues to forgo ear­marks, then ex­panded that ban to the en­tire House — thus drag­ging in the Sen­ate as well — when he won the speak­er­ship in 2009.

It meant giv­ing up a key tool that lead­ers had used to keep law­mak­ers in line — and los­ing it con­trib­uted to his prob­lems in squelch­ing con­ser­va­tive dissent over the past few years. But he said he has no re­grets.

It also neutered some of the power of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, which for decades had the abil­ity to dole out good­ies.

“The ap­pro­pri­a­tors ran the place for a long time. You go back a long time, and the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee was the most pow­er­ful com­mit­tee around here. That’s changed, ob­vi­ously, dra­mat­i­cally, over the last five years, any­way,” he said.

Mr. Boehner also had some suc­cess in restor­ing law­mak­ers’ abil­ity to af­fect de­bates on the House floor through amend­ments.

“Any Demo­crat in this build­ing will tell you they’ve re­ceived more amend­ments, more votes on the floor on their ideas, in the first two years of John Boehner’s speak­er­ship than they did in Nancy Pelosi’s, be­cause his phi­los­o­phy is, we all got elected and we all have some­thing to con­trib­ute,” said Rep. Rob Woodall, Georgia Repub­li­can. The num­bers back up that as­ser­tion. Mrs. Pelosi, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who was speaker in the 110th and 111th con­gresses, started off strong, al­low­ing 917 amend­ments to be of­fered in her first year. But that dropped to 268 her sec­ond year, rose to 538 in 2009 and then dropped to 248 in her fi­nal year.

By con­trast, Mr. Boehner over­saw 900 amend­ments in 2011, 589 in 2012, 526 in 2013 and 624 in 2014. The House is on track for an­other ban­ner year, with 732 amend­ments of­fered through the first 10 months, ac­cord­ing to records from the Li­brary of Congress web­site.

Rep. Sheila Jack­son Lee, a Texas Demo­crat, a pro­lific amender, sin­gle-hand­edly ac­counted for 124 amend­ments dur­ing the nearly five years Mr. Boehner served as speaker.

Mr. Boehner set the tone just two months into his ten­ure when the House was de­bat­ing a mas­sive spend­ing bill and a Repub­li­can of­fered — and won — an amend­ment to strip out $450 mil­lion slated to fund an al­ter­nate en­gine for the F-35 joint strike fighter. That money paid for a plant that em­ployed 800 peo­ple just out­side of Mr. Boehner’s dis­trict, but he didn’t move to stop the amend­ment.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Re­flect­ing on his years as House speaker, John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, said “I was fair to peo­ple on both sides of the aisle, hon­est and re­mem­bered what my first re­spon­si­bil­ity was, and that was to the in­sti­tu­tion.”

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