Austerity is first order for Boehner's installation as House speaker

With three days until the 112th congress convenes, Republicans are preparing the agenda for the new GOP-controlled House.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:16 AM

Nancy Pelosi brought camera crews and dignitaries into her childhood Baltimore neighborhood where a street was being renamed in her honor, while John Boehner is bringing his 11 siblings from working-class Ohio to Washington for a private reunion. Pelosi was feted at the Italian Embassy as Tony Bennett sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Her Republican successor was invited to the posh W Hotel for a LeAnn Rimes concert, but is planning to skip it.

Austerity is the theme of Boehner's ascendancy to House speaker this week, placing the start of this new Congress in stark contrast to the more lavish festivities that accompanied Democrat Pelosi's swearing-in four years ago.

On Wednesday, following a bipartisan prayer service at St. Peter's Catholic Church, Boehner will recite the oath and take the gavel from Pelosi with the attendant pomp and no more - except, perhaps, a few tears.

Then the 61-year-old Ohioan will deliver his maiden speech to the new House, which includes a huge cadre of freshmen lawmakers. Many are rambunctious Republicans who sailed into Washington with the tea party winds and are determined to use their majority to undo President Obama's legislative record.

In his speech, Boehner intends to survey the difficult choices facing the country and pledge to "listen to the American people" and to reform the way the House has operated in the past under control of both parties, according to a GOP leadership aide.

"The American people want a smaller, more accountable government. And starting Wednesday, the House of Representatives will be the American people's outpost in Washington, D.C.," Boehner said. "We are going to fight for their priorities: cutting spending, repealing the job-killing health care law and helping get our economy moving again."

Although Boehner has been steering clear of overtly partisan rhetoric, his lieutenants were strident in a string of television appearances on Sunday.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Republicans would hold a vote on repealing the health-care law before Obama delivers his State of the Union address later this month. Upton said disenchantment with the law is so pervasive in the new House that they could reach the two-thirds threshold to overturn a likely presidential veto.

Yet for all of the GOP's ambitions, Democrats still control the Senate and Obama can veto any bill that passes Congress. Democrats have said they are eager to reach common ground with House Republicans, but they also plan to fiercely defend Obama's achievements of the past two years, chief among them the health-care overhaul.

In a departure from earlier takeovers, Republicans are not planning a blitz of new legislation in the first few days. Rather, aides said, there will be a full reading aloud of the Constitution on Thursday, and likely a vote this week to cut congressional office spending by 5 percent - both symbolic gestures designed to set a tone for how Republicans plan to govern.

"The problems facing us aren't things that will be solved in the first 100 hours," said Republican strategist David Winston, a close adviser to Boehner. He was referencing the Democrats' "100 Hours" agenda following Pelosi's 2007 swearing-in in which they raised the minimum wage, funded stem-cell research and passed a flurry of other bills.

"How will you solve jobs and the economy?" Winston added. "What are you going to do with health care? The scope of spending and the deficit? These are big structural problems."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company