Boehner elected House speaker as 112th Congress convenes
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 5:32 PM
Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), taking the gavel Wednesday as the new speaker of the House, promised to work for fiscal responsibility while offering "openness" to the chamber's Democratic minority.
But Democrats promptly charged that a new rules package introduced by the Republicans would lead to trillions of dollars in additional debt and would symbolically disenfranchise House delegates from the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
In the Senate, meanwhile, where a reduced Democratic majority witnessed the swearing-in of newly elected and reelected senators, the chamber began debating a Democratic proposal to curb what sponsors called the abuse of the filibuster, a parliamentary tactic used to impede floor votes on legislation. Escalated use of the filibuster has essentially meant that most major legislation now requires 60 votes for passage, instead of a simple majority.
Charging that "the current system has been abused, and abused gratuitously," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a floor speech, "The filibuster in particular has been abused in truly unprecedented fashion."
"The Senate is broken," Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in defending the proposal. "Here in the Senate, open and honest debate has been replaced with secret backroom deals and partisan gridlock." He said the proposal does not seek to abolish the filibuster but to curb the misuse of it. A vote was not expected Wednesday.
As the GOP formally took control of the House on the opening day of the 112th Congress, Boehner, 61, said in his maiden speech as speaker: "Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required."
The election of Boehner to succeed Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), the first woman speaker, was a formality following his designation by Republicans in November as their nominee for the post. The GOP captured the majority in the House in the midterm elections and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate, giving President Obama a divided Congress to work with as he enters the third year of his term.
Nominated for the speaker's post by the Democrats was Pelosi, who became speaker in 2007 following a Democratic victory in the November 2006 midterm elections. Some Democratic conservatives and moderates in the Blue Dog Coalition voted for other candidates, notably Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), as a way of registering their disapproval of Pelosi, although no formal alternative nomination was presented.
The vote for Boehner over Pelosi was 241 to 173. Nineteen Democratic lawmakers withheld their support from Pelosi, instead voting present or for other candidates. Shuler garnered 11 of those votes. Two lawmakers - Boehner and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) - did not vote, according to an official tally.
After taking an oversized gavel from Pelosi as the new speaker, Boehner pledged to cut spending and said, "We will start by cutting Congress's own budget." The new GOP House leadership has set a vote for Thursday to reduce the office and staff expenses of lawmakers and committees by 5 percent, saving $35 million over the next nine months.
Boehner promised the new Democratic minority "openness" and said he hoped to rebuild the public's trust in Congress.
"No longer can we kick the can down the road," Boehner declared. "The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin to carry out their instructions."