The Washington Post

Boehner: ‘New tactical plan’ on sequestration worked

The Speaker’s message came just days after Congress approved a short-term spending plan that embraced the $85 billion in spending cuts, known as sequestration, that began March 1. (JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)

House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that his decision to allow billions in across-the-board budget cuts to take effect is forcing President Obama to recalibrate his approach to taxes and government spending, but he acknowledged that it was a strategy born out of limited options.

“We forged a new tactical plan that focused on using our limited leverage to maximum effect in support of the reforms needed to support economic growth and job creation for all Americans,” Boehner (Ohio) wrote Thursday in an Easter week message to fellow House Republicans.

“Republicans may be the minority party in Washington — but because we forged a plan together and have stuck to it, our actions as a team over the past couple of months have made a difference for all Americans,” Boehner wrote.

The speaker’s letter, meant to provide rank-and-file lawmakers with talking points as they continue a two-week recess, came just days after Congress approved a short-term spending plan that embraced the $85 billion in spending cuts, known as sequestration, that began March 1. That short-term plan will keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year.

The Republican focus on the spending cuts — rather than on picking fights on the short-term spending plan or an increase in the federal debt limit — denied Obama “the ability to hide behind straw men in his reluctance to control spending,” Boehner said.

How sequestration will impact federal departments

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed Boehner’s comments as the latest example of “governing by sound bite.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Pelosi said: “If they don’t have the Congress lurching from manufactured crisis to crisis, then they’re passing gimmicks that do nothing to address the urgent priorities of the American people.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.), an outspoken member of the Democratic caucus, disagreed with Boehner’s assessment, asserting that it was Boehner who had been forced to recalibrate. He noted that the House gave final approval to last year’s “fiscal cliff” deal, pushed back further debate on raising the federal debt limit until the summer, allotted billions in aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act.

“All four of those bills passed with a majority of Democratic support and a small minority of Republicans,” Connolly said. “And I give Speaker Boehner credit for allowing those votes. It hurts his speakership, from one point of view, but it allowed the House to work its will, and he deserves credit for that.”

Boehner’s memo focused exclusively on economic issues, noting that the House passed a GOP budget plan and several other spending measures that have no hope of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The message made no mention of forthcoming debates on immigration and gun control, two issues set to dominate the Senate calendar when Congress returns April 8.

In the House, attention will turn in early April to Obama’s budget plan, which will be released April 10. The House is likely to hold a vote on the president’s budget proposal soon after its release. As the plan has in the two previous years, it is likely to fail.

Boehner is spending most of the Easter recess on the road raising campaign cash for fellow House Republicans, aides said, but he also is reading a new book chronicling Abraham Lincoln’s two-year tenure in the House, and there was evidence of that Thursday.

In his memo, Boehner noted that the future president warned as a congressman about government debt “growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate.”

Boehner noted in his memo that Lincoln said: “[Government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute. An individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from – so must it be with a government.”

“Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before,” Boehner concluded.

According to the publisher’s description on Amazon, the book, “Congressman Lincoln,” by Chris DeRose, mostly recaps Lincoln’s congressional work “on stimulus spending, international trade and even the Post Office,” some of the very issues that the GOP-controlled House has mostly avoided in recent years.

Lincoln holds a special place in the hearts of recent House speakers. A portrait of then-Rep. Lincoln has hung in the Speaker’s Conference Room since Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) became speaker in 1999. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) left the portrait in place, but moved it with her into the minority leader’s office suite, because congressional archivists didn’t want it exposed to Boehner’s cigarette smoke, according to her aides.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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