Boehner says Republicans will lead, but backs away from votes

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday defended the House GOP’s go-slow approach on immigration, tax reform and replacing ObamaCare, saying the party wanted to avoid repeating mistakes Democrats made and had to face the “reality” of its limited power in Washington.

The Speaker began his weekly Capitol press conference by attacking President Obama for intending to “pack it in for the year” and said Republicans would, by contrast, demonstrate leadership by presenting an alternative vision to the country.

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“We’ll lead,” Boehner pledged, “and our members will not shy away from advancing better solutions for the American people.”

But when pressed on whether the House would actually hold votes on major legislation in 2014, the Speaker quickly backed away, and wouldn’t commit to anything more than continued “conversations” in the coming month.

He cited what he characterized as the Democrats’ rush to pass healthcare reform in 2010, recalling then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) infamous quote that they would have to “pass the bill, so you can find out what’s in it.”

“That’s not a very good way to legislate,” Boehner said. 

Republicans, he continued, would take their time on big issues like immigration, tax reform and an ObamaCare replacement. 

“Frankly, bringing bills to the floor that members understand, members appreciate, know what the upsides and downsides are, and making sure that we’ve got the right public policy, is the correct way to legislate,” Boehner said.

On tax reform, the Speaker praised Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich,), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, for the overhaul he unveiled on Thursday. But he reiterated that the draft bill was merely “the beginning of a conversation” that would determine “if and when and how we move forward” on the issue.

On healthcare, he noted that party leaders were meeting on Friday to discuss a Republican proposal, but he said members were still going through hundreds of ideas that have been put forward.

The Speaker cited immigration as the area where he and Obama found the most agreement during their Tuesday meeting at the White House. But again, he declined to say whether the House would act on the principles the leadership laid out in January.

The exchange underscored the difficulty GOP leaders have had navigating between electorally safe conservatives who want the party to take action this year and more vulnerable members who are leery of voting on contentious issues that have little chance of becoming law.

Boehner acknowledged that the GOP’s “minority” status in Washington – holding the House but not the Senate or the presidency – was another factor in his deliberative approach.

“So there is a certain amount of reality that we have to deal with,” he said, “even though some days it doesn’t look that way.”