Boehner Girds for New Fights

Posted April 1, 2008 at 6:42pm

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday laid out a two-pronged springtime strategy: taking advantage of the Democratic presidential fight to lay out a unified GOP agenda while forcing vulnerable House Democrats to make tough choices that could haunt them at the ballot box.

In an interview, Boehner made clear that Republicans will use all tools available to put politically vulnerable Democrats on the spot over the next eight weeks of legislative business when it comes to issues such as the Iraq War, taxes, spending and national security.

“We’re going to make sure that they have opportunities to choose between the liberal agenda of the House leaders or their constituents,” Boehner said. “You look at all those seats they picked up in ’06. They all ran as Republicans basically. Now, we’re going to give them a chance to show people who they really are.”

At the same time, Boehner said, Republicans will begin to roll out their agenda as they seek to reintroduce themselves to voters following their devastating losses in 2006. With the Democratic presidential primary expected to drag on for weeks, Boehner said the GOP stands poised to take advantage of the situation.

“I think there is an opportunity to go out there and really spend time talking about what we’re for and what we would do if the American people hired us as the majority here in Congress,” Boehner said.

Boehner has been spearheading the party’s effort to establish “Reasons to Believe” — a set of principles the GOP will use as part of its sales pitch to voters. The effort had previously been billed as “rebranding” — borrowing a term from corporate advertising — but Boehner said it would be better described as “refurbishing.”

Over the next month or so, Boehner said, he expects the party will begin to unveil an agenda based on plans for tax relief, health care, border security, energy and earmarks.

While the rollout’s logistics are up in the air, Boehner said Congressional Republicans will consult with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

“How we’ll roll this out and how we’ll coordinate this with the presidential campaign and McCain, all of that is still in the development stage,” he said. “But it is clear that we’re getting closer and closer to the point in time when we will show people what we’re for.”

Boehner shoved aside dire predictions about the GOP’s political fortunes in the fall elections and asserted that as many as 40 Democrats would be targeted and face difficult re-election races, though acknowledging the GOP’s limited financial resources. Of the more than two dozen open seats the GOP is defending because of retirements, he said “80 to 90 percent” are solid Republican seats — an assessment contradicting most political prognosticators. Of the 26 open seats the GOP is trying to hold onto in November, about 11 are viewed as tossup or lean toward a Democratic takeover.

“We’ve got four or five of these seats where we’ve got more of an effort than we would like to have,” Boehner said. “But that’s the hand that we were dealt.”

Republicans have argued this cycle that they plan to aggressively target the 61 Democrats who represent districts won by President Bush in 2004. Boehner said it is his belief that McCain will win more than 61 Democratic-held districts, further boosting the party’s candidates downballot.

Whether the party will have enough money to protect their open seats while trying to take down more than two dozen Democratic incumbents is still a question that looms large.

“The big challenge and the uphill challenge, frankly, is the resources,” Boehner said. “We don’t have to have as much as the Democrats, but we need to have enough money to compete. I say that’s an uphill fight, and it is. I don’t know that we need to make up the difference, but we need to have enough money to compete and to tell our story.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee announced this week that it has officially wiped clean the almost $19 million in debt left over from the 2006 cycle. Still, as of March 20, it faced a more than 7-to-1 cash-on-hand disadvantage compared with House Democrats.

Boehner said Member involvement in raising money for the party has been about on par with the past several years when Republicans were in the majority. Still, he said he’d like for his colleagues to do more. He also indicated there may be growing pressure on retiring Members to donate their leftover campaign funds to the NRCC.

“Those retiring Members have somewhere in the vicinity of $9 million worth of cash in their campaign coffers,” Boehner said. “They could be very helpful to us.”

Asked if he was pressing those Members to contribute, Boehner stopped short of saying he was making pleas.

“I have had some conversations, and I’m sure I’ll have more,” Boehner said.

Prying cash from the hands of retiring Members may be a tall order. Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), a retiring appropriator with a substantial campaign account and leadership political action committee, said that while he gave to the NRCC’s March dinner, he’s planning to dole out the bulk of his kitty to individual candidates, not to the NRCC.

“I’m not just going to give my money over to a committee,” he said. “The committee should raise it’s own money.”

Hobson said he will make his judgments on which races to put his money into based on his assessments of their viability. He added that he never received a dime from the NRCC and raised his money “mainly on my own.”

He has more than $900,000 in his personal campaign account and more than $200,000 in his leadership PAC, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.

Hobson said he has already doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates.

On other matters, Boehner said Republicans would resist Democratic plans for a second stimulus package, as well as other spending that might be attached to an upcoming Iraq War supplemental.

He said proposals such as extending unemployment insurance are unnecessary.

“Clearly the current economic conditions do not warrant that kind of action,” he said, describing unemployment as still relatively low and the economy as continuing to grow. Boehner added that the first stimulus package should be given a chance to work, noting that rebate checks will soon start going out.

Boehner said Republicans would be able to counter Democratic attempts to blame the GOP for economic troubles.

“They want to make it worse by raising taxes,” Boehner said.

As for plans such as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s proposal to overhaul and consolidate the federal government’s regulation of financial markets, Boehner said consolidation would “probably be a good idea, but it ain’t gonna happen this year.”

Boehner said he is open to a carefully constructed package that would deal with housing.

As for what will happen after the November elections and what the results might mean for his job and the slate of leaders, Boehner maintained that he doesn’t think about it.

“My job is to lead the Members for us to earn back our majority,” he said.

If that doesn’t happen?

Republicans will “talk about that after the election.”