Interview With Speaker Boehner: The Sequester Is Here to Stay (Part II)

Boehner acknowledged he likes a glass of Merlot from time to time, but he wouldn't elaborate. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In part two of Speaker John A. Boehner’s question-and-answer exchange with CQ Roll Call, the Ohio Republican dishes on hot-button issues such as the sequester — he suggests it’s probably here to stay — immigration changes, gun control and the fiscal 2014 budget.

But we also discussed the public’s perception of the ambitious, impatient House Republican majority that he leads and how he feels about a conservative activist community that expects much and criticizes nearly every concession the Ohioan makes to the reality that House Republicans alone do not control all levers of the federal government.

During parts one and two of our Q&A with Boehner, he was reasonably more candid given our focus on the myriad problems the Republican Party faces today and what he can do to help fix them. But in response to our final question of part two — one of a slightly personal nature, the speaker obfuscated.

Read all the way through and check it out for yourself.

CQ Roll Call: Has it been a challenge to battle President Barack Obama on the sequester when your conference was divided between those who think it’s fine and those who are concerned that it will have a negative effect on national security and military readiness? Have you concluded that the sequester is here to stay?

Boehner: The sequester is here until President Obama accepts the need for spending cuts and reforms that help put us on a path to balance the budget. That’s it. I don’t think anyone ‘likes’ the sequester. There’s a smarter way to cut spending. That’s why we passed two bills to replace it. But the President insisted on it, and did almost nothing to stop it — so it’s here until he changes his tune. He got his tax hikes. Now, it’s time to actually deal with spending. 

CQ Roll Call: Do House Republicans have to embrace comprehensive immigration revisions (even if it’s passed in pieces) that includes a path to “legalized status” for illegal immigrants who currently reside in the U.S.? How do you see your role in the current effort to pass legislation? What would you like your members to understand about the issue and its political implications for the GOP?

Boehner: Well, we’ve got borders that aren’t secure, laws that aren’t being fully enforced, and an immigration system that is broken. There’s a bipartisan group in the House and a bipartisan group in the Senate. I feel it’s my job to foster these types of bipartisan discussions, so I’m not going to say anything that makes it harder for them to find common ground. I want to get this dealt with, but I also want to make sure it’s done right. 

CQ Roll Call: The president has proposed an expansive gun control agenda that centers on outlawing certain weapons and magazine clips and implementing universal background checks. Talk about your biggest areas of agreement and disagreement with these concepts.

Boehner: Well, I think there’s a bigger issue here, the issue of violence in our society and the issues of mental health. Every one of these mass shootings, these terrible incidents, have involved someone with severe mental health issues. So our committees are examining all of these issues. As for the President’s recommendations, when the Senate passes a bill, we’ll take a look.

CQ Roll Call: Are you committed to moving the fiscal 2014 budget plan and more permanent debt ceiling fix/increase through regular order and an open floor process? Why shouldn’t Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the president assume that you’d eventually relent and come to the table for a three-way negotiation?

Boehner: Our Budget Chairman, Paul Ryan, will release his budget [this] week, and there will be a committee markup and then it will go to the floor, and — I expect — pass the House. I hope, then, the Senate will also pass a budget, and we can resolve the differences between them.  But I think it will be instructive to look at the contrast there. We’re going to produce a budget that puts us on the path to balance in 10 years. What will Senate Democrats do? Will their budget ever balance? Will the President’s budget ever balance? What kind of tax hikes will they include?

CQ Roll Call: Are Republicans really opposed to more revenue, or is it about how the government obtains more revenue? After all, if unemployment drops substantially, the government will be flooded with more revenue from people paying taxes. 

Boehner: It’s clear that we need to get people back to work, and we need our economy to grow. That’s why we’re talking about pro-growth tax reform: closing loopholes, reducing rates, and creating jobs.

CQ Roll Call: Tell me why House Republicans SHOULD NOT take comfort in the fact that many presidents lose seats in their second midterm election and the fact that no president has ever won more than 10 seats in his second midterm?

Boehner: Well, I think we’re in a good position, but I think the White House and President Obama’s entire political apparatus is going to be focused on the fight for the House in 2014, and we need to be ready.

CQ Roll Call: Let’s talk about the pressure House Republicans face from conservative activists .   What would you like activists to understand about your leadership? What might they not understand about what is possible under a Democratic Senate and Democratic president?

Boehner: Look, the American people in their wisdom, gave us a divided government and it’s our job to make it work. That means I don’t get everything I want, just like Harry Reid and President Obama don’t get everything they want. Do I want more? Sure. Always. But we’ve got one-half of one-third of the government in a Democrat-controlled town. As for earmarks, I’ve always had a ‘no earmark’ policy, and I’m proud of the earmark ban we’ve got in the House — and, by extension, in the whole Congress. It’s a good first step on getting our spending under control.

CQ Roll Call: What would you like American voters to understand about your members? Who are they to you?

Boehner: They are ready, willing and able to tackle the big challenges our country faces. I’m not here because I need a big office or a fancy job. I’m here to get things done. And I think my Members feel exactly the same.

CQ Roll Call: Talk about the challenge of leading such a relatively inexperienced, committed group of lawmakers who view “governing” as selling out and going Washington.

Boehner: Like I said, you have to learn how to be a legislator, and that’s complicated, but I think we’ve done pretty well together.

CQ Roll Call: According to urban legend, your favorite adult beverage is a glass of Merlot. Is this actually true? If so which vintner’s merlot do you prefer if you have the option? And if it isn’t true, can you set the record straight on your adult beverage preference?

Boehner: I do like a glass of Merlot from time to time. I’ll leave it at that.