Boehner: Democratic Agenda Is Election Key

Minority Leader John Boehner said last week that he believes it will largely be Democrats who determine whether he becomes Speaker of the House next year.

The Ohio Republican told Roll Call in an interview that the midterm elections will be 80 to 90 percent about the policies promoted by Democrats in Congress and the White House, having little to do with anything Republicans put forth.

House Republicans have said repeatedly over the past year that the weak economy, increased government spending and widespread disenchantment with Democratic priorities such as the health care reform bill will lead voters to reject the president's party at the ballot box in November.

Still, Boehner said he intends to make the most of the GOP's small impact and hopes that effort pushes Republicans over the finish line and into the majority.

"I'm trying to maximize that 10 or 20 percent that is about us," he said.

Those efforts will eventually be incorporated into a new governing agenda that Boehner said was scheduled for release after Labor Day.

Boehner tapped Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to lead the initiative to craft the unnamed document, which will include ideas submitted by average Americans as well as policies written in Boehner's "solutions groups" — small working groups of Members tasked with creating GOP policies on everything from health care to agriculture.

In order to cull ideas from the public, Republican leaders launched americaspeakingout.com last week, a website that allows visitors to submit their policy ideas and have them voted on by other users on the site.

But beyond the tools that are being used to craft a governing agenda and a few GOP guiding principles, such as lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, there are few details as to how Boehner and his party plan to reclaim the majority next year.

Boehner said the America Speaking Out listening effort will continue throughout the summer, and he dismissed questions about the wisdom of releasing an agenda for the 111th Congress in its final months.

"I go to my Facebook site, my own Facebook site, and just roll through there every morning. Just to see what people are talking about," Boehner said. "I've not seen any waning of interest in what Washington is doing. People are continued to be outraged every day."

Boehner said money could end up being the biggest hurdle for House Republicans — a fact he has stressed to Members during closed-door meetings of the Republican Conference on a regular basis.

The National Republican Congressional Committee outraised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last month, but House Democrats still maintain a larger war chest.

"We can't get there if we don't have the resources to compete," Boehner said. "And my greatest fear is that we'll have people on the battlefield that can win but for the fact that we weren't able to help them. ... That would be very disappointing to me, and I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that we are not in the position." Boehner pointed to a recent analysis by National Journal's Charlie Cook, who outlined 99 Congressional seats that are "in play" this election cycle.

"They are not all Democrat seats," Boehner said, but "there are 100 seats in play."

To help make sure Members are doing their part, he and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) tapped former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) to make sure Members pay their dues to the campaign committee in full.

"The participation is very high, particularly for this stage of the game," Cole said. "I'm not worried about pledges on this one."

Boehner said as their chance to reclaim the majority grows stronger, Members need to be careful not to appear "cocky" but still approach the midterm elections with confidence.

"It is possible for us to win back the majority," Boehner said. "You've got to walk a fine line. You've got to be able to go out there and sell the fact that it's possible without thinking it's in the bag, without appearing cocky."

He added, "We have a lot of work to do."

Boehner shed little light on what policies the agenda project could include, but he did say the party's goal is to appeal to as many Americans as possible — meaning many controversial issues will be left out.

"I can't tell you what it's going to be called. I can't tell you when it's going to happen. It's going to be built on listening," Boehner said. "We aren't looking at separating people here."

In addition to the governing agenda being assembled by Republicans inside the Capitol, Sessions hinted that a separate campaign agenda is in the works, but he declined to elaborate on the details.

"We will have a strong presence with an agenda. Let's just leave it at that," Sessions said.

Boehner hasn't been shy about revealing his ambitions but was equally vague when asked whether his leadership team will remain intact in the majority.

"Our leadership team has worked well together," he said. "I don't know what everyone's personal ambitions are."

Boehner did indicate that if he becomes Speaker, reining in spending and entitlement reform would be two of his top agenda items for the 112th Congress.

"I've watched Speakers, watched the leadership of both parties for 20 years, look up at the problem and kick the can down the road," Boehner said. "We can't do it anymore. Time has already run out."

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