By Russell Berman - 01/06/11 05:52 PM EST
The party ended quickly for new House Republican leaders, who spent their first press conference in the majority on the defensive over their efforts to reform Congress, reduce the deficit and repeal the healthcare law.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) clarified the GOP’s goals on allowing floor amendments to legislation and cutting federal spending, even as he insisted his party’s governing agenda was fully consistent with the “Pledge to America” Republicans made during last year’s campaign. He also dismissed a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimating that repealing the healthcare law would add $230 billion to the deficit over 10 years.
Republicans plan to move swiftly on a repeal vote over objections from Democrats that the majority is breaking one of its pledges by not allowing amendments to its first major piece of legislation. Boehner defended that decision on Thursday.
“I promised a more open process. I did not promise that every single bill would be an open bill,” the new Speaker told reporters in a press briefing with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). He repeated his statement from his opening address on Wednesday that “many” bills would be brought to the floor under an open amendment process.
On healthcare, Boehner said Republicans would proceed with a repeal vote despite its minuscule chances of advancing in the Senate. “We made a commitment to the American people. We’re listening to the American people. They want this bill repealed,” Boehner said. “We’re going to repeal it, and we’re going to do everything we can over the course of however long it takes to stop this, because it will ruin the best healthcare system in the world, it’ll bankrupt our nation, and it will ruin our economy.”
Asked directly if he thought next week’s vote would be a waste of time, Boehner became animated and raised his voice. “No, I do not. I believe it’s our responsibility to do what we say we’re going to do,” he said.
The Speaker took a shot at the CBO, repeating the GOP’s contention that the healthcare overhaul will add to the long-term deficit, and not reduce it as the budget office has projected. In a preliminary estimate released Thursday, the CBO said repealing the law would cost $230 billion in the next decade. “I do not believe that repealing the job-killing healthcare law will increase the deficit,” Boehner said. “The CBO is entitled to their opinion.”
The CBO is widely seen as a referee in the partisan fiscal warfare on Capitol Hill, and Boehner said its estimates were based on faulty assumptions, including “double counting,” provided by Democratic supporters of the healthcare law. Republicans specifically exempted the healthcare repeal from House restrictions on legislation that adds to the deficit, but Boehner did not answer directly when asked why the GOP needed the exemption if it did not believe the bill would lift the budget gap.
The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), said Thursday that the GOP’s bid to scrap the healthcare bill was “a move that flies in the face of their pledge to reduce the deficit.”
Boehner was also pressed on criticism from Democrats and Tea Party groups that the GOP was backing down on its pledge to cut $100 billion in spending in its first year. Republicans have said they will seek to cut a smaller amount from the current fiscal year appropriations because Democrats failed to pass a budget last year and the government is funded only on a stopgap measure.
“I will say this: We will meet our commitment to the Pledge in this calendar year,” Boehner said. “There’s no ifs, and or buts about it.”
The Speaker reiterated comments he made in an earlier statement that the House would oppose raising the federal debt limit without cuts in spending and a long-term plan to rein in the debt. “If the House is going to move an increase in the debt limit, I think we have a responsibility to cut spending and to make changes in the process by which we spend the American people’s money,” Boehner said. “I think it would be irresponsible to try to deal with the debt limit without taking corrective action so that we’re not facing this each and every year.”