He’s forsaken Sunday morning TV for thoughtful sit-downs with The New Yorker and “60 Minutes.” He let Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,R-Ky., serve as the front man for the GOP’s contentious tax-cut negotiations with the Obama White House.
And Tuesday night’s glitzy Republican fundraiser at the upscale “W” Hotel in downtown Washington, with country music star LeeAnn Rimes providing the entertainment? Yeah – John Boehner was planning on skipping that, too.
“That’s the style that people want right now,” said Steve Elmendorf, a former chief of staff to House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt. “It’s tough economic times.”
“The voters who voted in the Republican majority don't want to see any celebrations,” agreed Bob Cusack, managing editor of The Hill. “The economy is ailing, and [Republican lawmakers] have got a lot of work to do.”
The austerity of tone being set by the incoming speaker on the eve of his swearing-in ceremony Wednesday is being matched by a frugality in spending. It was Friends of John Boehner, the congressman’s official campaign organization, that chartered the five buses that transported dozens of hometown supporters, including 10 of Boehner’s 11 siblings, from the Wetherington Golf and Country Club, in West Chester, Ohio, to the nation's capital Tuesday.
And among the first bills that will be introduced in the House under Boehner’s speakership will be a measure that cuts congressional spending by 5 percent. Analysts called the move largely symbolic, noting that it would hardly make a dent in the country’s $1 trillion deficit. In his office’s first press release of the new year, Boehner claimed Tuesday the measure, if signed into law by President Obama, will immediately save taxpayers $35 million.
“To reverse Washington’s job-killing spending binge, sacrifices will be required throughout the federal government,” Boehner said in the statement, “and we are starting with ourselves.”
In a hint of how the House GOP leadership may follow up Thursday’s vote, the incoming Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., issued his own statement saying he hopes federal agencies will follow suit, and cut their own budgets. “If not," Cantor added, “we’re happy to do it for them.”
Veterans of Capitol Hill also predicted that Boehner’s low-key, no-frills approach to the shift in power on Capitol Hill will be discernible in the way the House operates under his speakership.
“He has seen how previous speakers ran the House, whether it be Newt Gingrich or Nancy Pelosi, and he's going to be doing it differently,” said Cusack. “He’s not going to be writing bills from the speaker’s office. He’s going to let his committee chairmen go through so-called regular order, move bills through the committee, let the public see it for three days, before it’s voted on. Then it moves to the House….That’s what they’ve promised.”
“[Boehner] was a committee chairman; he was a legislator,” Elmendorf told Fox News. “And I think he's coming in in a way that’s respectful of the institution and the other people in the institution. It's not a ‘I'm in charge of everything’ mode.”
But Elmendorf, who served Dick Gephardt when the Missouri congressman was majority and minority leader in the House, predicted Boehner will eventually face some thorny moments as he pursues his goal of decentralized power.
“The test for him,” said Elmendorf, “is going to be the tension between ‘I'm trying to be a different speaker’ and ‘I'm trying to be an effective speaker.’ And to be an effective speaker, you essentially have to roll over the minority; and sometimes you have to roll over some of your own members.”
James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole." His latest book is "A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century" (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).