Who, exactly, is the Speaker of the House?

Twice this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made public statements that were later corrected, and in effect contradicted, by his spokesman. Both embarrassing episodes leave rank-and-file Republicans wondering exactly who the Speaker of the House is — John Boehner or his spokesman?

First, Boehner said he was open to the idea of repealing massive tax breaks for the Big Oil companies. Those companies, expected to report obscene record profits in the next few days, benefit from the Big Oil welfare tax on Americans — a tax break of more than $4 billion a year paid for with taxpayer money.

“It’s certainly something we ought to be looking at,” Boehner told ABC News on Monday. “We’re in a time when the federal government is short on revenues. We need to control spending, but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving. And they ought to be paying their fair share.”

Boehner's spokesman heard something different. According to The Hill, he sought to “clarify” the Speaker’s remarks, saying Boehner “made clear in the interview that raising taxes was a nonstarter, and he’s told the president that … Unfortunately, what the president has suggested so far would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump.”

Then Boehner forgot his talking points again during the same interview when discussing the Republican budget that ends Medicare as we know it by turning it into CouponCare and slashes Medicaid while cutting taxes for the rich and preserving the Big Oil welfare tax on Americans. 

 “I’m for it. It’s our idea. Right? It’s Paul’s idea. Other people have other ideas. I’m not wedded to one single idea, but I think it’s — we have a plan,” Boehner said, seeming to hedge a bit. 

Along came Boehner’s spokesman again, telling The Washington Post: “Boehner strongly supports the House Republican Budget put together by [Budget Committee] Chairman [Paul] Ryan [Wis.]. If others have options that would preserve Medicare and Medicaid and put us on a path to pay down the debt, he’d love to see them.”

One Republican operative said that Boehner “had a bad day.” That’s for certain. But if you’re a member of the House Republican Conference or someone who is negotiating budgets and legislation with him, how can you believe anything he says if his spokesman is consistently forced to come out and redefine his statements and their intent?

The title of Speaker of the House leaves one with the impression that the officeholder speaks for the legislative body in some capacity. Apparently this Speaker of the House doesn’t have the capacity to speak for himself.

More in House

Gowdy: No interest in being Speaker

Read more »