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John Boehner dreams of a rebellious November

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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, May 30, 2010

On domestic issues, House Minority Leader John Boehner is unequivocal in his support for three items: Quench, Dawn and OxiClean.

Quench refers to the body lotion, Dawn the dishwashing liquid and OxiClean the laundry stain remover -- the first two are products of Procter & Gamble, one of the largest employers in Boehner's Ohio.

These state secrets surfaced when I asked the perpetually tan Boehner, who insists he was "born tan," how to treat my sunburn. Firing up a Camel Light, his first of three during our 40-minute interview in his Capitol office, he said, "Ah, I'm a Quench believer."

Before we moved on to more pressing concerns, Boehner riffed on other favorite products. Dawn works not only on dishes but on oil-slicked birds, as the manufacturer's Web site boasts. As for OxiClean, look no further than Boehner's dazzling white shirt.

You have to admire a man who can juggle both Heloise and Nancy Pelosi in the same paragraph. You also can't help noticing that Boehner is at once commanding and preternaturally laid back. What he doesn't show (but others tell) is that he is savvy, a man of his word, and has a coach's eye for others' talent and is happy to hand off the ball.

So why should Americans trust Republicans in light of the GOP's profligate ways when they controlled Congress? Boehner's answer might be his party's bumper sticker this year: "We learned our lesson."

"Are people leery? Oh yeah. But we're winning 2 to 1 with independents today."

For Boehner, being called the "Party of No" isn't a regrettable invective. It is a strategy aimed at highlighting the contrast between those running things and those who want to run things. That deafening silence you hear from Republicans about the gulf oil spill? All the better for Americans to hear the glubglubglub of Democrats and the administration going down the drain.

Boehner & Co. are busy, meanwhile, conducting a massive digital listening tour via the GOP's new "America Speaking Out" Web site, where voters can submit and vote on ideas. It's user-friendly to a fault, with undertones of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," such that Dick, Jane and even Spot can play.

Then again, Republicans finally have figured out the miracle of social media and are using it to engage voters angry that Washington seems to neither listen nor care what they think. Companion to the "speaking out" site is YouCut, unveiled by Rep. Eric Cantor this month, where Americans can vote on spending cuts. In one video, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announces the winner: pay raises for Congress and federal employees (except military personnel).

The sites have stirred some controversy among Democrats, who have their own ideas for spending cuts -- the money being used to underwrite the Web sites. While Republican leaders insist that the sites are vehicles for collecting ideas that will shape the GOP's agenda, Democrats have charged that public funding is being used for political purposes. Of course, Democrats did the same thing with their "Six for '06" effort. What is in the public interest, and what may also prove politically advantageous, is a blurred tightrope both parties have walked. Boehner's office says that no campaign funds have been used, nor is there a campaign component to the sites.

Boehner is reluctant to speculate about November, when 100 seats will be in play. If things should go bump on election night -- and should Boehner replace Pelosi as speaker -- expect to see lots of blood on the floor. First to get the hatchet would be health-care reform, which Republicans would seek to replace with "common sense" measures to reduce insurance costs and secure jobs. Other priorities would include line-by-line budget cuts, entitlement reform and restoration of the integrity of the House, which Boehner says has been damaged by previous speakers' emphasis on partisan gains. "That's why the Congress of the United States is broken and I aim to fix it."

That's a mighty high bar, especially given the significant "scar tissue" between the parties, as Boehner puts it. But when 43 cents of every dollar spent has to be borrowed, somebody, as President Obama described the oil crisis, has to "plug the damn hole."

Whether Republicans have the ways and means to do that remains to be determined by the voters, but while Democrats are scrubbing oil from the gulf, Republicans are greasing the gears for a much-anticipated rebellion.

kathleenparker@washpost.com


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