As Boehner begins his second term as speaker, early indications are that many of the House’s 29 new Republicans could be similarly willing to buck party leaders.
The group will face a key test Tuesday when the House votes on $50 billion in aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Some conservatives, including new members, are pushing to offset the emergency spending with other cuts.
Amendments to the aid package could derail quick passage in the Senate, which has a bipartisan agreement to award $60 billion to storm victims without an equal amount of spending reductions.
A split within the GOP over hurricane assistance already earned Boehner harsh criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), whose state was hit hard by the storm, and could ensure a particularly divisive start to the congressional term.
“I’d prefer to be a ‘yes’ vote, but I’ve got to be responsible with taxpayer funds,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who voted against $9.7 billion in flood relief the day after he took office this month.
Through two years of listening sessions and periodic blow-ups, Boehner earned the admiration of many of those elected in 2010 — but never their full support.
Now, with a thinned majority (Democrats picked up eight seats in November), he will have to start over with a new cadre of conservatives, just as Congress confronts a series of difficult fiscal decisions.
Congress must raise the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling by the end of February or risk a government default. At the start of March, broad cuts to military and domestic spending that were delayed for two months in the “fiscal cliff” deal will begin without action. And the funding mechanism that keeps the government running will expire at the end of March.
On Monday, President Obama vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling, insisting that dire economic consequences would result without congressional action.
Boehner responded that the consequences of not increasing the ceiling are real — but said that “so, too, are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved,” and he pledged that the House will act to cut spending.
An increasing number of congressional Republicans, including some elected in November, say that Obama is overstating the potential harm.
Default is a “fake red herring,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (Ariz.), arguing that many government functions would cease but that Obama could “prioritize spending” to blunt the impact.
Already, some of the freshmen have shown a willingness to oppose Boehner.