Just moments after surviving a tight fight with House conservatives to stay on as House Speaker, John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Ohio) vowed to reduce the government's $16 trillion debt, and said to the new 113th Congress that "nothing is more important."
"Our government has built up too much debt," BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE said. "Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems."
"At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state," he said. "The American Dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt. Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free. Jobs will come home. Confidence will come back.
Boehner's remarks on the debt are a clear sign to wavering House conservatives that he will keep up the fight against an expanding federal government. But they are also a clear shot at the Obama administration.
Just this week, Boehner said he would no longer engage in one-on-one negotiations with President Obama on the big fiscal issues, and said he would instead return to regular order — passing bills through the House that can be adopted or amended by the Senate.
Boehner was largely seen as being on the losing end of his fight with Democrats this week. That fight resulted in a bill that delayed the spending sequester for two months, and increased taxes, which was a large part of Boehner's trouble with conservatives this week.
Boehner fought back tears when he told the new Congress that they should not be here to serve themselves, but to serve the country.
"If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people; if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place," he said.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also cited deficit reduction as a major issue, along with the need to boost infrastructure spending and getting money out of politics.
"We have a moral imperative to invest in good-paying jobs here at home and in the prosperity of our people, as we build our infrastructure and we reduce the deficit," she said.
"We must increase the level of civility and reduce the roll of money in our elections," she said. "When we do, we will elect more women, more minorities, more young people to public office."
This story was updated at 2:19 p.m.