Boehner: 'I'm not concerned about my job as Speaker' in fiscal talks

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said he’s not concerned about his job as Speaker as he seeks a deficit deal with President Obama that could face opposition from conservative members of his conference.

“I’m not concerned about my job as Speaker,” Boehner said in a Capitol press conference. “What I’m concerned about is doing the right thing for our kids and grandkids. And if we don’t fix this spending problem, their future is going to be rather bleak.” 

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His comments come as he faces division in his conference about how far to go to reach an agreement with Obama to avert year-end tax hikes and spending cuts. While some Republicans have said the House should agree to higher tax rates if Democrats accept deep spending cuts and entitlement reforms, many conservatives have balked.

Boehner and other members of the GOP leadership have also taken heat from conservative groups and some lawmakers for removing four members from key committees, in part because of their voting records. 

Three conservative freshmen in that group — Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Justin Amash (Mich.) — have yet to commit to supporting Boehner for Speaker during the formal floor vote in January, although conservative leaders in the conference say there is little to no chance of a serious challenge to Boehner taking place.

Boehner on Thursday would not say whether the House might agree to Obama’s demand to vote on legislation extending only middle-class tax rates if no broader agreement on the fiscal cliff is reached.


“The law of the land is that everyone’s income taxes will go up on Jan. 1,” he said. “I’ve made it clear that I think that is unacceptable, but until we get this issue resolved, that risk remains.” 

The Speaker escalated his attacks on Obama over spending, saying the White House “appears willing to slow-walk our economy right up to — and over — the fiscal cliff.”

The fiery rhetoric from the Speaker less than two weeks before Christmas signaled that serious differences remain in the negotiations with Obama, despite the new offers that were traded after a weekend meeting at the White House.

“It’s clear the president is just not serious about cutting spending. But spending is the problem,” a visibly frustrated Boehner said.

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“Republicans want to solve the problem and get this spending line down. The president wants to pretend spending isn’t the problem. That’s why we don’t have an agreement.”

Later in the day, White House spokesman Jay Carney blasted the GOP leadership, saying there was "no specificity behind what the Republicans have put forward, and no more than a sentence about proposed revenues."

"The proposal that we've seen is a two-page letter," he said.

Meanwhile, Boehner referred to a chart created by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House budget chief and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, highlighting that the president’s proposal for $1.4 trillion in tax increases would not reduce federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy.

“Unfortunately,” the Speaker added, “the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk our economy right up to — and over — the fiscal cliff.” 

Democrats blame the impasse in the talks on Republicans, and say Boehner is the one standing in the way of a deal. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Wednesday accused Boehner of trying to drag out the talks until Jan. 3 to save his job.

“He's concerned that any agreement he reaches ... could undermine support for him in his caucus and make it more difficult on Jan. 3," when the House will elect a Speaker, Van Hollen said.

Boehner is set to return to Ohio over the weekend. While a spokesman for the Speaker noted there was "both cell phone service and airports" in Boehner's home state, the decision to return home is a marked contrast from last weekend, when Boehner visited Obama at the White House.

On Thursday, Carney noted the White House was also equipped with "landlines" and disputed that a face-to-face meeting was the "magic elixir" to solve the tough negotiations.

At the same time, the press secretary acknowledged that "there's no question that we haven't [yet] reached an agreement."

— This story was updated at last updated at 2:54 p.m.