Boehner Works to Minimize GOP Losses

Posted October 29, 2008 at 6:15pm

If House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is dumped in a palace coup following an expected GOP bloodbath on Election Day, it won’t be for lack of activity.

Despite an ailing back that required another surgery last week, Boehner has visited 17 districts in 10 states this month alone in a last-minute blitz. On Wednesday night he was launching a “2008 Ohio Victory Bus Tour” throughout that swing state to wind up the race. Over the past two years, he’s headlined more than 250 events for Members and helped raise more than $23 million for the party.

Boehner also has been active on the policy front, coming out with new stimulus proposals a week before the elections focused on tax cuts after resisting a second stimulus package for much of the year.

The latest gambit — pairing an additional $1,000 tax credit for children with a host of deep cuts to corporate and capital gains tax rates — is meant to give GOP candidates another talking point to rebut the drumbeat from Democrats of a need for a large spending package to stimulate the economy.

“We need to encourage economic growth not by increasing spending on government programs and pork, but by helping middle-class families and small businesses keep more of what they earn and encouraging investment and job creation right here at home,” Boehner told reporters as he announced his plan Tuesday.

Boehner’s GOP has spent the bulk of 2008 talking up oil drilling and other energy issues — frustrating some Members who wanted leadership to push a broader conservative agenda. But with gasoline prices now plummeting and the broader economic crisis dominating the news, Boehner and other Republican leaders have turned the focus in the past month to taxes in an effort to blunt Democratic momentum.

The latest plan is a refined version of a set of principles Boehner announced a few weeks back.

The goal is to save as many endangered GOP seats as possible, which just might save Boehner his job. Republicans privately are expecting losses of 20 seats or more, and many are despondent about the presidential election chances of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) amid the dismal poll ratings for President Bush and the slumping economy.

Some of Boehner’s critics in the Conference say he should have been talking up new tax cuts months ago.

“It’s awfully cute that Leader Boehner has put out a pro-growth economic package less than 10 days before a very tough election,” said one Republican aide. “As they say, it’s better late than never, but it surely would have been a lot more helpful for Members in tough races if the leader and the Conference was this aggressive on pro-growth economic policy in the first 22 months of the 110th Congress rather than its last 10 days.”

But a House GOP leadership aide noted that Republicans outlined a broad economic agenda in June, including tax cuts for businesses and an overhaul of the tax code, but struggled to get press attention as spiraling gas prices dominated the news.

“The energy was on energy for a reason,” the aide said.

Boehner also put a little distance with the White House on Wednesday after it was reported that some of the banks receiving taxpayer cash as part of the $700 billion bailout plan to give out billions in bonuses to executives. Boehner fired off a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson saying the bailout should not be used to aid bank acquisitions or for bonuses.

“These are not the types of expenditures you described during your many discussions on Capitol Hill earlier this fall, and these certainly are not the types of expenditures Members of Congress envisioned when the plan was sent to the president earlier this month,” Boehner said.

The bailout has been a burden for Republicans on the campaign trail, even though most voted against it despite the urging of Boehner and President Bush.

Democratic leaders sent a letter of their own asking Paulson to tighten up regulations on executive pay and golden parachutes.

Those sympathetic to Boehner argue he’s aiming to protect his Members and give them independent leadership, not simply trying to save his own skin.

“Cynics might insist he is heavily active in an anticipatory effort to stave off a ruckus after next Tuesday, but they don’t understand that John Boehner is always leaning forward on an aggressive agenda that sticks up for common-sense conservative principles,” said Eric Ueland, a former GOP staffer. “With a White House change coming, the need for an independent point of view from the House Republican leadership is a natural step ahead that Mr. Boehner is taking.”