By Patrick OConnor - 03/30/06 12:00 AM EST
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered an ultimatum to his Republican colleagues yesterday that they must approve the upcoming budget resolution.
Boehner told members during their weekly closed-door conference meeting that they must “put their minds around the fact that they have to vote for the budget” measure, said one member in attendance.
That message included a mild admonishment of those conservative Republicans who raised objections to the emergency supplemental spending bill that passed the House before the March recess, other members said afterward.
Members gave the majority leader a standing ovation after he completed his remarks.
In his brief tenure as majority leader, Boehner has made a distinct imprint on the job, involving himself and his staff in the party’s broad message strategy as well as initiating a number of smaller procedural changes to make the process more open and efficient for members.
The upcoming budget fight is his first clear test as leader, and his remarks yesterday signal an intent to take a hard line in negotiations with the conference at a time when conservatives and centrists are laying markers to signal their intent against the budget bill.
During his campaign, Boehner promised members that he and a small group of his Republican colleagues would draft a vision statement for the party. The majority leader has conducted a similar exercise for his staff every winter to help focus their energies for the year.
Members of that group, which includes a broad cross-section of the conference, are expected to release that statement in the next few weeks after the entire conference has a chance to vote on it.
Boehner has also made a number of small changes during his early tenure as majority leader. He and his staff have implemented two-minute votes to limit the time members spend on the floor; he released a three-month floor schedule earlier this month so members could prepare legislation adhering to his broad themes; and his office has already scheduled two televised briefings — with the possibility of more in the future — to give reporters and producers further chances to ask questions about the agenda.
Rank-and-file members have welcomed many of these procedural changes, which adhere to Boehner’s campaign promise to make the leadership more inclusive. The real test comes in corralling members on tough votes, a skill for which his predecessor, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), was renowned.
Boehner butted heads with a handful of Republican Study Committee (RSC) members earlier this month after they asked for a vote on their amendment to separate the funds for hurricane reconstruction from a broader emergency-spending bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Negotiations between Boehner and those RSC members broke down, prompting 29 Republicans to vote against the rule on that bill — 22 Democrats offset those protest votes, allowing the rule to pass.
RSC members took leadership to the brink last year with their demands to make changes to the annual budget process before cutting a deal.
Lawmakers from the RSC, including Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), met yesterday with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to urge him to support their suggested procedural changes to the budget
GOP centrists, meanwhile, have already asked leaders to boost spending that was cut in the White House’s proposed budget.
Boehner’s speech yesterday earned mixed reviews from a few members in attendance.
“It was a call to be a team player,” one GOP member said afterward. “The problem I personally had with the remarks was the admonishment for our activities on the supplemental,” adding, “I would have preferred Mr. Boehner not address that.”
The majority leader has otherwise earned positive reviews during the early stages of his return to leadership.
Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), whose own unsuccessful candidacy gave Boehner a boost during the majority leader’s race, gave his opponent generally high marks but wanted to see the leaders make more progress to trim federal spending and reform the earmark process.
“I would like to see him be more aggressive in looking for budget savings…and to curb the abuses that led to the [Jack] Abramoff and [former Rep. Randy “Duke”] Cunningham scandals,” Shadegg said.
“On the overall, I would give them good marks,” Shadegg said about the leadership as a whole. In singling out Boehner, he said, “To a certain extent he jumped into a stream that was already moving.”
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has waged a personal crusade against earmarks, believes Boehner is committed to that cause. “He’s trying,” Flake said.
Boehner pledged to remain the same person he always has been in his campaign for the leadership post, and the conservative, avid golf player has largely stayed true to form.
Since becoming majority leader, Boehner has cosponsored two bills: Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) measure, which would require doctors to inform all pregnant women seeking an abortion after the 20th week of their pregnancy that the baby will feel pain and to require anesthesia be administered to the babies. The other bill seeks to award a congressional gold medal to golfing legend Byron Nelson.
The dapper and affable Ohioan still conducts business from his old perch in the smoker’s corner of the Speaker’s Lobby, where he fields questions from members and reporters while smoking his signature Barclay’s. Earlier this month, Boehner, DeLay and a few other members enjoyed a smoke together during a long series of afternoon votes, with DeLay smoking a large cigar.
But the overwhelming pressure of leadership can take its toll on even the most carefree lawmakers.
Asked about his change of emotion since leaving the leadership after 10 years cutting the deals, DeLay recently said, “I feel free.”
Jonathan Allen contributed to this article.