With critical negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling under way, Speaker John Boehner is still struggling with a strong sense of distrust among his fellow Republicans over the last big deal he struck with Democrats.
Republicans have bluntly warned that dissatisfaction with the way the Ohio lawmaker handled the continuing resolution talks last month will make it difficult for him to sell a debt deal unless he expands the circle of House Members involved in the negotiations.
“In order to get 218 ... you are going to have to have a wider array of people who have ownership of whatever the final agreement is,” one GOP lawmaker said.
The lawmaker, whose views were echoed by others, said that while leadership did well to keep Members informed early in the CR negotiation, information dried up as the deal was being finalized.
“Right when it mattered most, people knew the least, and that is a problem and that is not a lasting way to gain momentum or to achieve results,” the lawmaker said.
The issue is a complex one for Boehner, who had to rely on House Democrats — 81 of them — to pass a CR deal that he triumphantly negotiated with the White House and the Senate. The Republican Conference is packed with independent-minded conservatives, many of them freshmen, whom Boehner has yet to corral into a reliable bloc of votes for his initiatives.
Rep. Steve King, a conservative who voted against the CR, said Boehner needs backup going into this next round of negotiations.
“I think the negotiations can be more effective if we have more people at the table who can actually represent a position,” the Iowa Republican said. “How can you ask the Speaker to know the positions of everybody in our Conference? Nobody knows it better, but he can’t know all of our positions.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel downplayed concerns with what Boehner’s handling of the CR fight portends for the debt limit vote, saying Republicans remain focused on securing additional spending reductions as part of the deal.
“The President has asked us to raise the debt limit, but the American people will not tolerate an increase unless we deal with the real problem: out-of-control Washington spending,” Steel said in a statement. “We’re listening to them. If we’re going to do this, it must be accompanied by real spending cuts and reforms to the way Washington spends taxpayers’ money.”
A GOP leadership aide said Boehner and other leaders “certainly are cognizant of the concerns” of their rank-and-file Members and are taking steps to address them. For instance, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) are holding a new round of listening sessions to discuss the debt limit and build a consensus position.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.