Boehner takes over response to Obama, focuses on jobs and health care

President Obama’s record is “littered” with promises — ranging from an economic stimulus plan to a new health-care law — that have not panned out, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) charged Saturday as he touted measures passed in recent months by the House meant to spur job creation.

Boehner spoke during the Republican response to Obama’s Saturday morning radio address, a forum usually reserved for rank-and-file lawmakers or GOP governors.

But with Congress returning to Washington on Monday, Boehner touted that the Republican-controlled House remains focused on job creation, which polls suggest remains one of the top concerns of voters this election year.

“We’re ready to improve job training programs so workers can acquire the right skills; expand production of American-made energy to lower costs; open new markets for small manufacturers; and repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said.

From the factory floor of a small business in Piqua, Ohio, Boehner said workers there shared with him sentiments he hears everywhere, that “we need to get the federal government out of the way.”

Visiting small businesses and lamenting the state of the economy and American health care is a must for House Republicans these days, as they remain almost singularly focused on economic matters.

Obama used his weekly radio address to urge Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and chided lawmakers for taking more than 50 votes against the health-care law but not one vote on the minimum wage bill.

In response to Boehner’s criticism, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said: “Speaker Boehner can try to paper over the Republican record, but he can’t run away from the facts. House Republicans have next to nothing to show for their time in the majority, aside from failed leadership, debilitating dysfunction and a culture of crisis.”

Boehner said nothing in his address Saturday about immigration reform, although he surprised an Ohio crowd Thursday by openly mocking House Republicans who have told him they don’t want to take up the issue during an election year. Obama and Congress need to work together on immigration, Boehner said Thursday, but he didn’t set a firm timetable or commit that the House will vote on immigration anytime soon.

But his message on immigration this year has been consistent: That the House may one day act independently of the Senate but won’t seriously engage on the subject until his colleagues reach a level of trust with Obama, who they say has openly disregarded federal law in an attempt to advance his political agenda.

Further proof that the House won’t take up immigration anytime soon came near the start of Congress’s two-week Easter recess, when Obama openly criticized House Republicans for not allowing votes on immigration bills. Shortly after doing so, Obama phoned House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) — who controls the House schedule — and made a direct plea. But Cantor lashed out, saying in a statement that Obama had only called “after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together.”

Cantor has previously signaled a willingness to work on elements of the immigration issue, but has never spoken out as boldly as Boehner, who has been saying in recent months that he believes that Congress and the GOP need to act. But Boehner has also said several times — most notably during an interview this year with Jay Leno — that “a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.”

That’s the attitude he took during last year’s government shutdown, and it’s the same approach he’s taking with immigration. In the fall, he urged his colleagues to avoid plunging the federal government into a partial government shutdown. Rank-and-file Republicans heard him out but disagreed, so Boehner recalibrated. Republicans were badly bruised following the government shutdown, as Boehner told them they would be.

A similar political dynamic for Republicans might eventually play out on immigration. For now, Boehner is concerned about maintaining and expanding the GOP majority in the House and in keeping his job as speaker.

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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