Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are facing more pressure than ever to unify their Conferences against Congressional Democrats and the White House on fiscal responsibility and spending priorities.
The two leaders rarely differ on policy. Still, their relationship will be put to the test in the 112th Congress now that Republicans control the House and President Barack Obama has signaled a shift to the center and a fresh focus on fiscal discipline. Both Boehner and McConnell will need to embrace a new level of coordination as they look to convince their diverse caucuses to follow their lead.
Boehner has wasted little time trying to frame his party’s message on spending. The Ohio Republican pressed for a joint House-Senate GOP strategy on the subject the day after he became Speaker, meeting on Jan. 6 at the Library of Congress with Senate Republicans. His message: Consider the upcoming battles on funding the government and the debt limit as one big partisan fight over spending. Senate Republicans, who had already been heading that way, responded favorably.
“I think what we’re united on is that we want to take serious action to reduce spending and reduce the debt,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a close ally of McConnell. “In this case, it’s pretty simple.”
Several Republicans said they are looking to McConnell and Boehner to plot the party’s strategy to combat Obama and the Democrats.
Of Boehner, Sen. Richard Burr, a former House Member, said, “John has the opportunity to lead us out of what is the greatest fiscal potential crisis this country’s ever seen and I think he’s capable of doing it, and it can only be done with the coordination between the House and the Senate.”
The North Carolina Republican described Boehner and McConnell’s relationship as “probably the closest” between House and Senate leaders during his political career.
“I think it will continue at that base, if not grow further given the divided government,” Burr said.
“I think Mitch and John have shown over the last several years that they work very well together, and I expect that relationship just to get stronger now that John’s going to have some real power to get something done over on the House side,” added Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who also served with Boehner in the House.
Boehner and McConnell have had success with cross-Dome coordination in the past. In February, one month before the health care bill was passed, staff from the two leaders’ offices met behind closed doors to figure out how to approach Obama’s White House health care summit. Republicans were worried that if they mishandled the televised meeting, they would lose the public relations war over the overhaul.