Clutch of businesses pins hopes on Boehner's election

Rep. John Boehner’s rise to the second highest post in the House could benefit a number of business interests he has supported in Congress.

Rep. John Boehner’s rise to the second highest post in the House could benefit a number of business interests he has supported in Congress.

Backers of for-profit education, free-market farm policies, immigration guest-worker programs and pension reforms could all benefit from Boehner’s victory, lobbyists say. As majority leader, Boehner will have broad, but not absolute, power to set the House Republicans’ agenda.

Some things are unlikely to change under his leadership. Committee chairmen will maintain discretion to craft bills under their purview, and Boehner’s conservative political philosophy — lower taxes, fewer regulations — is in line with that of both Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who finished second in the race for leader, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who held the post until being forced to resign after his indictment in Texas on campaign-finance charges.

Kevin Smith, Boehner’s spokesman, said the new majority leader’s first priority is to use the upcoming party retreat to build consensus among conference members.

“Congressman Boehner believes we need to get back on the offense this year,” Smith said.

But while the House is unlikely to take a sharp turn under Boehner, his experience serving on the Education and the Workforce and Agriculture committees and in representing his Ohio district may color his approach to his new job, lobbyists said.

Representing a district in suburban Houston, for example, Tom DeLay was a powerful advocate of the oil and gas industry as majority leader.

Boehner, who ran a plastics packaging company before being elected, has been a strong supporter of small businesses in Congress. The National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business group, has never given Boehner a score lower than 100 percent on its scorecard. Blunt, too, has always won the group’s highest score.

One critical difference between the two may be in their views about immigration reform, a critical issue for many small businesses. Boehner voted against a bill that focused on enforcement of border security in December. Blunt voted for it.

In general, Boehner is considered to be more amendable to guest-worker programs. Groups that favor that approach, such as the National Restaurant Association, whose members sometimes rely on immigrants for their labor pool, are financial backers of Boehner.

Another different priority may fall on legislation beneficial to for-profit educational institutions and private lenders of student loans, such as Sallie Mae.

As chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, Boehner was a big backer of both. Blunt too supported for-profit educational institutions.

But Bruce Leftwich, vice president for government relations at the Career College Association, said his members may benefit from Boehner’s expertise in the intricacies of educational policy.

The group, the only national trade organization for for-profit institutions, which includes institutions like the University of Phoenix, supports H.R. 609, which would reauthorize higher-education policies. Included in the bill is a provision that would make it easier to transfer credits from for-profit to traditional universities and colleges.

Boehner has a “good understanding of the importance of the bill,” Leftwich said.

Farm groups that oppose federal subsidies and support more open trade with foreign countries could also benefit from Boehner’s win.

“Any time you have people in leadership who understand the complexity and the importance of agriculture, it’s a good thing,” said Mark Maslyn, the executive director of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a group with 5 million members.

Boehner was a big backer of the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill, which sought to reduce the amount of federal subsidies farmers received, and he led a fight against the 2002 farm bill, which restored the subsidies Freedom to Farm sought to eliminate.

Congress is likely to begin the debate on a farm bill again this year and vote on a new measure next Congress.

Maslyn noted that Blunt backed the policies supported by the Farm Bureau, but he added that Boehner, as a member of the Agriculture Committee, may be more familiar with the “intricacies of the policies.”

Boehner may also weigh in on a brewing issue in the insurance industry. Two insurance companies in his district, Cincinnati Insurance Co. and Ohio Casualty Insurance Co., oppose efforts to create a federal regulatory insurance body to replace the state-by-state framework now in place.

Larger insurers, such as Prudential and Northwestern Mutural, favor a federal approach.

Boehner has not weighed in on the issue, which is unlikely to be resolved this year. But opponents of a federal approach are hopeful that the majority leader will side with them, considering both the makeup of his district and his friendly relationship with Mike Oxley, another Ohio Republican, who opposes the change.

As majority leader, Boehner is also likely to continue as a strong backer of a pension-reform bill he crafted as chairman of the education and workforce committee.

Boehner pushed for the House to take up pension reform measure before the winter recess. Blunt, who was acting as majority leader at the time, had said it was unlikely the House would pass the bill before break.