Boehner says House Republicans will learn from their 2006 missteps

As the election results rolled in last November, Rep. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) mood turned sour.

“At 9 p.m. election night I was pretty grumpy, by 10 I knew I had a new hand to play,” he said yesterday during an interview with The Hill.

Some on Capitol Hill thought that Boehner would be swept away with the huge Democratic wave, predicting he would have a challenging time getting enough votes to return to the leadership. But Boehner easily won his race against Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) in a clear indication that the House GOP Conference does not blame the 57-year-lawmaker for the poor showing at the polls.

Sitting back in a leather chair, in his freshly painted office (he changed the colors of the walls from blue to yellow), the House minority leader said his party has been lacking something that is essential for political parties: fresh ideas.

“If you go back to the early 90’s we were the party of ideas and I think the inventory of new ideas to solve the problems we have in America is running pretty empty… and part of what we have to do is reenergize our members and our allies and new ways to solve the problems our constituents face.”

He added, “We are not going to earn back our majority just because people like us, we have to give people reasons to vote for us. “

Boehner said only time would tell how the Democrats will govern and scoffed at reports that his conference is beginning to fracture.

“We are in a marathon not a sprint, they’ve been in the majority for 10 days they are in the middle of their honeymoon. You don’t expect the couple to split up in the middle of their honeymoon.”

While Boehner stressed the need for new ideas for all the members of his conference, he said he has looked to older, former members as well, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

“Newt is doing what he does best and that is generating new ideas, as far as I’m concerned I’d like to have every Republican [contribute] new ideas,” Boehner said and used his ideas related to healthcare IT as an example.

“I think we have to reach far and wide and not just look and see what’s on the shelf and pull it off,” he said.

At the beginning of the last Congress, Republicans punished Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) for not toeing the party line, taking away his gavel of the Veterans Affairs Committee. This year, House Republicans recently removed Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), an outspoken critic of GOP leaders, from the Judiciary Committee.

Boehner denied that the Flake decision was a strong-arm tactic: “Hey, we lost 93 committee slots. My goal was to take care of everyone’s needs opposed to their wants and a lot of members stepped up and did things they didn’t want to do. In this case the Steering Committee needed to find a slot for a freshman who at the end of the day didn’t have much and we needed the slot on the Judiciary Committee.”

Pressed about whether Flake’s tendency to challenge leadership played a role, Boehner replied, “ We needed the slot, he had one. We thought he could give up and that’s what we took.”

Boehner acknowledged that the Iraq war has been a tough issue for Republicans during the 2006 elections, and that President Bush’s recent “troop surge” plan had triggered concern from some members of his conference.

He said members should gather as much information as possible in order to educate themselves about Bush’s plan and then make a decision about how to view it.

“Congress has an obligation to look at that plan and to voice its opinion but this idea of the sense of Congress opposed to the president’s plan it just empty political rhetoric.”

Boehner challenged House Democrats to put their own plan together, adding, “The only plan on the table is the president’s plan.”

“Congress does have a role we control the power of the purse, that’s where we speak the loudest,” Boehner said.

Congress later this week will take up a bill to deny the pensions of members of Congress who have been convicted of crimes and while he supports that legislation, Boehner has urged Democratic leaders to proceed cautiously.

“I think if a member is convicted of abuse in his office he should be denied his pension, but what about his family?” Boehner said.