Most rank-and-file House members either expressed tentative support or declined to weigh in immediately on House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) debt-reduction plan after a closed-door conference meeting Monday afternoon. But a coalition of conservative lawmakers and outside groups swiftly panned the proposal.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was among those expressing support for the proposal, saying that “it’s not perfect, but it’s damn close, and it’s as close as you’re likely to get in this kind of environment.”
“This is John Boehner at his legislative best,” Cole said after the GOP conference meeting, “trying to find common ground, trying to work with people both across the aisle and across the Rotunda. But you know, at the end of the day, it’s uniquely his proposal. I think it moves this conference where it wants to go, and again, it deserves the support of the members of Congress.”
He added that if House Republicans don’t support Boehner, “then we’ve really materially weakened his ability to win this negotiation for us and, more importantly, for the things we believe in.”
“The comments were overwhelmingly positive,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) of the conference’s reaction to Boehner’s proposal.
Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.)said: “I think everyone left there with an interest in seeing the details, and with a realization that this may be the best offer on the table..”
Several Republican freshmen were among those members who said they were withholding judgment for now.
“I think there are some very interesting parts, and the bill has not been put in print yet, and until it’s put in print, I don’t know that I can say one way or the other,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.).
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), said that “it’s clear a tremendous of effort has gone into this, and I respect and appreciate that.” But, he added, “having said that, we have not yet seen the entire proposal.”
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) declined to say whether he’d support a proposal that doesn’t include a balanced-budget amendment.
“This is Washington, you never say never,” said Farenthold, also a freshman. “I think it would be a lot easier sell to a lot of the people in the conference if it had the requirement of passage of a balanced budget amendment. ... Obviously, I think it would be much more powerful a statement if we were able to come behind something and come behind something strong. And whether this is it or not is tonight’s reading project.”
Farenthold said that among the concerns members have is that “it’s real easy to push cuts way down into the future, and if it’s not in the next few years, it’s not nearly as meaningful.”
He also said that some members wonder whether the plan would satisfy the demands of the credit rating agencies, which have called for a sweeping deficit-reduction plan in order to get the country’s fiscal house in order.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make a hard decision, and there’s a real reluctance to make hard decisions in Washington,” Farenthold said. “Nobody likes to make a hard decision because you’re running every two years.”