Boehner full of regret over 'cliff' moves

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is sharing his regrets about his "fiscal-cliff" strategy, less than a month after the House bitterly swallowed a last-minute deal hatched in the Senate.

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In a private speech to the Ripon Society on Tuesday, Boehner said that he should have taken a different course after the November election by immediately demanding that the Senate produce a bill to avert the worst parts of a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that were due to hit on Jan. 1.

Instead, Boehner delivered a formal speech at the Capitol on the day after President Obama won a second term, in which he offered a major Republican concession – new tax revenue as part of a broader fiscal deal.

“Looking back, what I should have done the day after the election was to make it clear the House has passed a bill to extend all of the current tax rates, the House has passed a bill to replace the sequester with cuts in mandatory spending, and the Senate ought to do its work,” Boehner said. “We’re ready, able and willing to work with the Senate as soon as they produce a bill. It should have been what I said. You know, again, hindsight is 20-20.”

The Speaker addressed the Ripon Society, a 50-year-old GOP advocacy group, for about 20 minutes on Tuesday in an appearance that was closed to the press. The group sent out a video and excerpts of his speech on Wednesday, but the Speaker’s more extensive comments in the speech and a question-and-answer session that followed have not been widely reported.


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The House passed legislation earlier in 2012 extending the full slate of George W. Bush-era tax rates and replacing the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts through sequestration. But it was dead on arrival with both the Democratic-led Senate and the newly reelected president, leading Boehner to try to restart talks with Obama on the so-called grand bargain the two had sought in 2011.

Boehner now believes that effort was a mistake, and he has vowed to Republicans in the House that he will not negotiate one-on-one with Obama going forward. He is instead recommitting to a “regular order” process, whereby the House and Senate pass legislation independently that can then be reconciled with amendments or with conference committees.

That has begun with the House GOP’s move to approve a short-term increase in the debt limit in exchange for a commitment from Senate Democrats to pass a budget resolution for the first time in four years.

After the Speaker’s talks with Obama failed, the House was forced to accept a Senate fiscal-cliff deal brokered by Vice President Biden and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which raised tax rates without reforming entitlement programs, something Boehner had wanted to avoid.

Boehner has spoken only sparingly with the press in the last month, but during his Ripon Society appearance he was remarkably candid about the problems that his approach caused with members of his conference. More than half of the conference voted against both the fiscal-cliff deal and a subsequent bill providing aid to states affected by Hurricane Sandy. Boehner suffered 12 Republican defections during his reelection vote as Speaker early in January.

“You have no idea the suspicions and the undercurrents that it caused, frankly, a lot of my members,” Boehner said of his negotiations with Obama. “It really has, in fact, caused somewhat of a breach that I’ve been in the middle of trying to repair.”

Boehner attributed the suspicions to the younger members in the Republican ranks who are not familiar with his voting record in the years before he took the Speaker’s gavel.

“Some of our members don’t realize that while I may be a nice enough guy, and I get along with people, when I was voting I had the 8th most conservative voting record in the House,” he said. “But a lot of our newer members – they don’t know that. And so, you know, they think I’m some squish, that I’m ready to sell them out in a heartbeat, when obviously, most of you in this room know that that ain’t quite who I am.”