Boehner challenges Senate Dems to take lead, pass Obama second-term agenda

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday challenged Senate Democrats to pass the agenda President Obama laid out in his State of the Union address, suggesting the president’s progressive proposals lack support even within his own party.

“The president likes to attack Congress, but if he is serious about enacting this agenda, I think it must start with the part of this Congress that his party controls — the United States Senate,” Boehner said at the outset of his weekly Capitol press conference. “What can he get passed in the United States Senate?”

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The comments are part of the Speaker’s strategy of forcing the Senate to take the lead on Obama’s agenda, a move aimed at least in part on keeping pressure off him and his fractious Republican majority in the House.

“If the president wants to impose a national cap-and-trade energy tax, I would hope that Senate Democrats take it up,” Boehner said. “If the president wants more stimulus spending that we know doesn’t create jobs, I would expect the United States Senate to go ahead and take it up. If the president wants more tax hikes that will destroy jobs, then his Democratic allies in the Senate ought to take it up. This isn’t the agenda that Americans are looking for, and I think many in the president’s own party won’t support his ideas.”

“In the House,” he continued, “we’re going to continue our focus on what the American people’s top priorities are — creating jobs and cutting spending.”

Boehner has abandoned the one-on-one negotiations he tried with Obama in the 112th Congress and has voiced regret that the secretive talks allowed Senate Democrats to avoid tough votes on critical fiscal issues.

“For the last two years, the House has done its work. We’ve passed legislation to tackle the tough challenges that America faces only to see our Senate colleagues do nothing,” Boehner said. “Those days are over. The House will continue to meet our obligations, but the Senate Democrats must begin to do their work.”

The messaging appears coordinated between the Speaker and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who took to the Senate floor on Thursday to challenge Democrats to pass a proposal to replace automatic spending cuts that is laden with tax increases.

Boehner said he relayed the same message to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday morning, telling him the Senate must act first to replace the $85 billion in looming sequestration cuts, which are set to begin March 1.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told my Republican colleagues at our retreat," Boehner said. "The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”

The Speaker indicated, however, that his Senate-first policy with regard to Obama’s agenda did not extend to immigration reform, an issue which he has said needs to be addressed. Bipartisan groups in both the House and Senate are working on comprehensive legislation, and Boehner said it was too soon to say whether the House would wait for the Senate to act.

“No decisions are made, who should go first,” he said. “I think we’re way too far down the road.”

The Senate has already passed, on a broad bipartisan vote, legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Boehner said the House was still working on the issue and had not decided how to proceed.

“We’re fully committed to doing everything we can to protect women in our society, and I expect the House will act in a timely fashion in some way,” Boehner said. “No decisions have been made about ... whether we’ll take up the Senate bill or move our own version of the bill.”

—This story was posted at 11:20 a.m. and updated at 12:07 p.m.