In message to House Republicans, Boehner quotes Lincoln

March 28, 2013

House Republicans have "forged a new tactical plan" that is forcing President Obama to recalibrate on issues of taxes, spending and job creation, according to an Easter memo by House Speaker John A. Boehner


(Photo by Chip Somodevilla - GETTY IMAGES)

In a message sent Thursday to rank-and-file House Republicans, Boehner (R-Ohio) recaps how he believes his conference has reframed the national debate on taxes and spending in the first few months of 2013.

"To support our strategy, we forged a new tactical plan that focused on using our limited leverage to maximum effect in support of the reforms needed to support economic growth and job creation for all Americans," Boehner says in his message.

"We made the decision to center the spending debate on sequestration rather than on the debt ceiling or legislation to keep the government running, denying the president the ability to hide behind straw men in his reluctance to control spending," the message reads.

By insisting that automatic budget cuts -- known as sequestration -- begin as scheduled, "President Obama’s strategy of using hyperbole and scare tactics to parlay sequestration into further tax increases failed," Boehner argues. "The economy has been spared from another round of tax increases on top of those imposed by the president through Obamacare and the fiscal cliff."

In sum, Boehner argues: "Republicans may be the minority party in Washington – but because we forged a plan together and have stuck to it, our actions as a team over the past couple of months have made a difference for all Americans."

It's a memo heavy on economic issues -- there's no mention of forthcoming debate on immigration, gun control or other issues that Obama and Senate Democrats are discussing -- signaling that House Republicans will keep to their economic themes when they return to work on April 8.

Most notably, Boehner quotes at length from "Congressman Lincoln," a book recapping the 16th president's brief tenure in the House. Specifically, Boehner excerpts Lincoln's warnings about government debt "growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate."

At the time, Lincoln warned that "[government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute. An individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from – so must it be with a government."

"Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before," Boehner concludes.

What Boehner doesn't note is that the book also recaps Lincoln's congressional work on "stimulus spending, international trade, banking, and even the Post Office" -- issues that the GOP-controlled House has mostly avoided in recent years. And Lincoln was a member of the Whig Party -- not the GOP -- when he served as an Illinois lawmaker. (The Whigs would fizzle out about a decade after Lincoln left Congress.)

Lincoln holds a special place in the hearts of recent House speakers. A portrait of then-Rep. Lincoln has hung in the Speaker's Conference Room since Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) became speaker in 1999. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) left the portrait in place, but moved it with her into the minority leader's office suite -- because congressional archivists didn't want it exposed to Boehner's cigarette smoke, according to her aides.

Read the full memo below:

To:                   House Republicans

From:               Speaker Boehner

Re:                   Balancing for Growth

Date:               28 March 2013

The 113th Congress is well underway, and much has occurred in just a few short months.  With the Spring District Work Period upon us, I’m writing today to reflect on the events of the past few months from the standpoint of our Conference – events that culminated last week in the passage of our Path to Prosperity budget for FY 2014 – and to invite you to share your input on next steps.

THE WILLIAMSBURG DECISION: “FIGHTING SMART” AS A WASHINGTON MINORITY

In January at our retreat in Williamsburg, VA, House Republicans came together as a team.  We listened to each other, and adopted a new strategy for the coming year that has put Republicans on offense and Democrats on defense.

Recognizing that President Obama’s agenda of increasing even more taxes would hurt the economy, we agreed in Williamsburg on the need for a balanced plan that cuts spending and grows the economy by reforming taxes and balancing the budget in 10 years.

To support our strategy, we forged a new tactical plan that focused on using our limited leverage to maximum effect in support of the reforms needed to support economic growth and job creation for all Americans.

We made the decision to center the spending debate on sequestration rather than on the debt ceiling or legislation to keep the government running, denying the president the ability to hide behind straw men in his reluctance to control spending.

Speaking together with a single voice in the weeks following the Williamsburg retreat, we implemented the plan.

It began with the successful #NoBudgetNoPay initiative and led to passage of our responsible, balanced federal budget last week.  I again congratulate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and all of the members of the Budget Committee for their remarkable leadership in delivering the only balanced budget in Washington.

GETTING RESULTS: KEEPING THE PRESSURE ON TO CONTROL SPENDING

The plan we forged together in Williamsburg has been effective in keeping the pressure on the Democratic majority in Washington to control spending and remove barriers to economic growth.  Consider:

  • President Obama’s strategy of using hyperbole and scare tactics to parlay sequestration into further tax increases failed.  The economy has been spared from another round of tax increases on top of those imposed by the president through Obamacare and the fiscal cliff.
  • The #NoBudgetNoPay initiative forced the Democratic majority in the Senate to pass a budget for the first time in four years, requiring them to do what American individuals and families have to do on a monthly basis.
  • On Friday night, the Democratic-controlled Senate endorsed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project championed by Republicans that would boost production of North American energy for families and small businesses and create thousands of new American jobs.
  • Pressure is mounting on the Democratic majority in Washington to balance the federal budget and identify meaningful entitlement reforms they’re willing to enact to address the government’s soaring debt.  Their reluctance to fully embrace balancing the budget demonstrates  they are out of step with the American people.

It’s important, however, to keep these developments in perspective.   Notably:

  • The president hasn’t succeeded in getting his additional tax hikes – but the economy still isn’t growing as it should be growing.
  • The federal bureaucracy is spending less than it otherwise would – but the national debt continues to grow, crowding out investment and eroding confidence needed to support growth.
  • The private sector is still struggling amid policies that make it harder for individual Americans to get a high-quality education, acquire new job skills, and balance the demands of family and the workplace.
  • The spending cuts implemented under sequestration still need to be replaced with better spending cuts that help move us to our goal of a balanced budget within the next decade.
  • The national unemployment rate remains far above the levels that were promised when President Obama signed the trillion-dollar “stimulus” debacle into law.

Five years of the Obama presidency have proven we cannot borrow and spend our way back to prosperity.

Immediate action to address the debt is required to begin to put our country back on a footing for economic growth and long-term, sustained private sector job creation.

That’s why House Republicans set the goal of balancing the budget within the next decade, and have made it a top priority.

A NOBLE PURPOSE: BALANCING FOR GROWTH AND WHY IT MATTERS

There should be no doubt that our purpose in calling for a balanced budget is a noble one, and the right one.

The book Congressman Lincoln by Chris DeRose, which I recently read, includes a chapter focused on Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to help craft a new national agenda.  At one point in the book, young Lincoln warns that government debt is “growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate.”

“[Government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute,” Lincoln warns his countrymen in Congressman Lincoln.  “An individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from – so must it be with a government.”

Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before.

President Obama rejects the notion that government should adhere to the same budgetary principles as individuals and families; he was clear about this in his recent meeting with us.  But like the founder of our party in the quotations above, Republicans embrace the notion.  It lies at the heart of our effort to restore our nation’s prosperity.

Why do we believe government should follow the example of individuals and families and balance its budget?  Because we believe it’s important for growth; for jobs; for freedom; for opportunity for all.

We know the source of these virtues is not government, but our people and their economy.  Government today, with its excessive taxation, regulation, and borrowing, too often stands in the way.

THE PARTY OF ECONOMIC GROWTH & JOBS

Republicans are the party of economic growth, and growth is what matters most to American families and small businesses who are struggling to make ends meet.

  • It’s on the mind of the working mother struggling to pay for childcare, groceries, and the monthly bills.
  • It’s at the top of the agenda for the small business owner trying to meet a payroll, comply with ever-increasing government red tape, and add jobs.
  • It’s a constant concern for our youngest Americans, who face the prospect of a future dominated by by fewer jobs and more debt and despair if changes aren’t made.

Republicans may be the minority party in Washington – but because we forged a plan together and have stuck to it, our actions as a team over the past couple of months have made a difference for all Americans.

From #NoBudgetNoPay to Leader Cantor’s #MakingLifeWork initiative to last week’s passage of our Path to Prosperity budget, we’ve used our limited power in Washington to maximum effect, and shown the Democratic majority what leadership looks like.

The next steps are critical.  The weeks and months ahead will be tremendously important ones for our conference and for our country.

I urge you to engage your constituents during the spring work period, and to bring the input back to Washington so it can inform our discussion about next steps.

It’s my honor to serve with you and stand with you for these goals in the service of the American people.  See you in April.

Happy Easter!

 

This item has been updated since its original publication.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

 

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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