What bills can lame-duck Boehner move?

The sudden resignation of Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk With Ryan out, let’s blow up the process for selecting the next Speaker Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election MORE has added a fresh dash of uncertainty to a year-end scramble on a host of policy matters.

The end of 2015 was looking to be wild even before BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk With Ryan out, let’s blow up the process for selecting the next Speaker Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election MORE announced his exit at the end of October, with policymakers under pressure to deal with the debt limit, highway funding, expired tax provisions and several other lingering policy questions.

Now the Ohio Republican has emerged a major player, many hope, freed from conservative pressure, he will use his final weeks to get a lot of that done.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to go out in a blaze of glory,” said Steve Bell, with the Bipartisan Policy Center. “trying to be able to walk away and say, ‘You know, I did as much as I could.’”

But with Boehner’s colleagues jockeying for a shake-up in House leadership, conservatives caution that any dramatic moves could put them in a tough spot.

Boehner indicated Sunday that he’d like to make life a little easier for his successor by clearing some of the trickier issues from the docket, relying on Democratic votes to overcome conservative opposition.

“I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

While Boehner’s efforts to move on looming issues could help the next Speaker, it complicates matters for the Republicans vying to move up in House leadership. If Boehner pushes to bring contentious bills to the floor, he could force his close colleagues to make a tough decision: Back Boehner and help move critical bills, or try to lead a revolt against them. Conservatives are vowing to watch all that closely.

“There are real consequences if he goes down that path,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action. “If somebody looking to move up in leadership is going along with his decisions that rely overwhelmingly on Democrat votes, that’s a difficult dynamic.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who just launched his bid to replace Boehner, downplayed the notion of broad action in the fall in an interview with Fox News Monday.

Here’s a handful of lingering policy matters that Boehner could try to push:


Tackling the $18.1 trillion debt limit would be a heavy lift for Boehner, given the strife it would cause in his conference. But in terms of clearing a path for his successor, a debt-limit fix could be one of the most consequential moves he could make.

The Treasury Department has told Congress it doesn’t need a borrowing boost until after the end of October, but the Speaker could act early to calm markets and dodge a catastrophic default by hammering out a debt-limit deal. It’s likely Democrats and a chunk of the Republican Conference would go along with a clean debt-limit increase with no conservative policy demands, but doing so would risk the wrath of his right flank, heightening divisions within the party.

GOP leaders have stepped away from the debt limit as a bargaining tool since a 2011 standoff led to a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating, and Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator: Democratic opposition to Pompeo 'driven 100 percent by politics' Pompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees MORE (R-Ky.) have been adamant this year that default is not up for debate. But conservatives are hoping the leadership shake-up puts it back on the table.

“Republicans in 2011 really sought to use the legislative tools at their disposal to extract policy concessions from the president,” said Holler. “‘No default’ rhetoric ... sent a very clear signal to anyone that was paying attention that they weren’t going to fight tooth and nail on this stuff.” 


The Export-Import Bank has been a focal point for conservatives, who won a major victory in forcing the bank’s charter to expire at the end of June. Since then, business interests have been looking for any opportunity to revive it, and see opportunity in Boehner’s move. Even as conservative criticism of the bank mounted, Boehner remained a supporter, and could work with Democratic and Republican Ex-Im backers to renew the charter before he leaves office.

But such a move would be a particular challenge for McCarthy, if he is chosen to succeed Boehner. The House’s No. 2 Republican declared opposition to the bank after taking on that leadership role, a rare difference he had with Boehner.

So some Ex-Im backers see the job of saving the bank as a tough one, as McCarthy gains influence at the top of the House GOP.

“It makes it a little bit harder on the Export-Import Bank, since Leader McCarthy is against it and Speaker Boehner was such a strong proponent,” said one financial lobbyist.

McCarthy flatly ruled out an Ex-Im revival Monday.

“Ex-Im, that has failed now and it should stay failed,” McCarthy said on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”


At first glance, pushing through a big deal to extend highway funding could be the most plausible item on Boehner’s potential to-do list. As McConnell likes to put it, there’s no such thing as a Republican or Democratic road.

Partly because of the bipartisan interest in infrastructure, there’s also reason to believe striking a major highway deal wouldn’t be as controversial with Boehner’s conservative critics as reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank or raising the debt limit.

For starters, neither GOP leaders nor the House’s conservative upstarts were fans of the Senate highway bill, with three years of funding, that McConnell pushed through this summer.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanLieu rips Ryan after Waffle House shooting: ‘When will you stop silencing us?’ To succeed in Syria, Democrats should not resist Trump policy House Republicans prepare to battle for leadership slots MORE (R-Wis.) is currently working to tie a major infrastructure package with a revamp of the U.S.’s international tax rules for business. Republicans on the committee said last week that they’re also trying to permanently revive some expired tax provisions, commonly known as extenders, in such a deal.

President Obama and other Democrats are against permanent extensions of the tax cuts, and McConnell has suggested that he thinks Ryan’s efforts aren’t really worth the time.

That points to another question for Boehner: Will he have a highway deal to advocate before leaving office at the end of October, or will Congress need another short-term extension?

Boehner said when the Senate voted on its highway bill he was confident a longer-term deal could be struck in the fall. Now, transportation advocates are hoping he’s able to seal the deal before he leaves Congress.

Keith Laing and Cristina Marcos contributed.