Major tests loom for Boehner

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is facing some tough decisions in the coming weeks. [WATCH VIDEO]

By and large, Boehner has dodged controversy since January, when his political stock took major hits as Congress debated the fiscal cliff and Sandy relief. But that respite will soon come to an end.

ADVERTISEMENT
Among the testy issues facing Boehner: Immigration reform, a five-year farm bill, the constitutionality of the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs, a possible government shutdown and increasing the federal debt limit.

Boehner has already committed to moving a five-year farm measure, which is set for a vote on the floor this week. But there are sure to be dozens of GOP defections.

Meanwhile, revelations of National Security Agency (NSA) data-mining programs that culled phone and Internet records of Americans have caused angst for some in the GOP, who fear overzealous government intrusion.

A handful of GOP lawmakers suggested moving legislation to address the possible Constitutional violations, and spoke out on the matter to their leaders at a closed-door conference meeting last week.


More from The Hill:
• GOP: Questions on ObamaCare? Call Obama
• Al Gore presses Obama on carbon, calls Keystone 'atrocity'
• Feds unveil new policy for transgender people to update records
• Pandora's radio buy dials up opposition
• Six amendments to watch in Senate immigration fight



“There's some in our conference who are making Constitutional arguments” for and against the programs, and others want to debate the policies “even if these programs are legal,” a Republican lawmaker told The Hill, noting that it was one more worry for a Speaker whose legislative plate is full for the summer and the fall.

The biggest issue on Boehner’s plate deals with funding the government. Earlier this year, many expected that the debt-limit showdown would occur before the August recess.

Boehner ally Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a key member of the Appropriations Committee, told The Hill that postponing the debt-limit fight makes it more difficult for appropriators to move their spending bills before the summer recess.

“I was hoping that we would deal with the debt limit before we got to appropriations bills or a majority of them so we would know what our numbers were going to be...it concerns me that I don't know how we are going to finish the appropriations process,” Simpson said in an interview.

With the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate so far apart on their respective budgets, Boehner will have to negotiate spending levels while also dealing with the very real possibility of a government shutdown in the fall.

Since Republicans took over the House in 2011, the majority party has had a difficult time garnering a majority of the fiscally conservative conference to support spending bills, let alone more divisive matters such as immigration.

Still, Simpson believes that Boehner intends to let the House “work its will” on the measures even if it means relying on Democratic votes to carry the majority of support for those bills.

“When you are Speaker, you aren't just Republican Speaker, you are Speaker of the whole House and you need to do what's best for the whole House sometimes that might mean a majority of Democrats and minority of Republicans that pass a bill,” Simpson said.

Others disagree. Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill are urging Boehner to embrace the “Hastert rule,” which is named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). The rule stipulates that no bill can come to the House floor unless it has the backing of a majority of House Republicans. 

Some Republicans don’t think that is necessary.  

“The important thing is to pass something on immigration so we can go to conference with the Senate,” Simpson noted.

To help appease conservatives in the GOP conference, Boehner recently held House votes on issues such as abortion and repealing ObamaCare.

Asked if those votes would help Boehner with his standing in the conference when the more divisive votes come up in the next few months, Simpson nodded his head: “Some of it does, because to some people [those are the] most important issues here.”

Boehner confidant Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) said that the Speaker has been operating behind-the-scenes to set the conditions that the summer's big-ticket items come up for consideration on the floor. 

Acknowledging that the Speaker "always has big stuff coming up," Tiberi told The Hill that Boehner is "meeting with the chairmen, talking with the chairmen, he's encouraging chairmen to go through the regular order process.”