House Republicans Focus On Winning Back Majority

House Minority leader John Boehner talks to Steve Inskeep about President Obama's upcoming State of the Union address. Boehner says the GOP is focused on winning back the majority, and he would like to be the next Speaker of the House.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One person listening tonight will be John Boehner, the leader of Republicans in the House. His goal is to win this falls congressional elections and become speaker of the House.

How is that goal likely to affect what can and cant done in Congress over the next few months?

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Well, the goal is a shared goal amongst House Republicans to try to win back the majority here in the Congress so that we can continue to put forward policies that we believe are more in line with the wishes of the American people. I dont expect that it'll affect our agenda here in Washington this year at all.

INSKEEP: I understand what youre saying when you say it wont affect your agenda at all. But I'm asking something a little different. Im asking about how that will affect the likelihood of making some kind of deals with Democrats with reaching common ground on any major issue.

Rep. BOEHNER: We've reached out over the last year, and we're going to continue to reach out. But there has been no reaching back from the White House or from our Democrat colleagues. But that doesnt mean that we're going to give up. We believe that bipartisan solutions to the question that most Americans are asking - where are the jobs - is probably the most important thing we can be doing.

INSKEEP: Although is it in your interest, really, to find common ground on any given issue right now?

Rep. BOEHNER: I think it is, because if you look at what's happening around America, I think we're in the midst of a political rebellion. We saw it manifest itself last summer. And we saw it manifest itself last week in Massachusetts, of all places. But the American people are angry at all of us who are in office. And I think to the extent that we can come to a bipartisan agreement, I think it benefits all of us.

INSKEEP: Will you lose the support of the Tea Party Movement and other unhappy conservative voters if you're seen as being too accommodating or accommodating at all with Democrats?

Rep. BOEHNER: Just because you sit down and work with Democrats doesn't mean that you're going to throw your principles out the window. I think there's a way...

INSKEEP: But will your supporters throw you out the window? That's what I want to know.

Rep. BOEHNER: No. If we stick to our principles and work to find common ground, I think that we'll receive the support of a lot of Americans.

INSKEEP: What's an issue where you could realistically see Democrats and Republicans finding some of that common ground and moving forward in the next few months?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, I think there are two areas that I would point to: one, the economy and jobs. Their trillion-dollar stimulus plan from a year ago clearly has not worked.

INSKEEP: So would you favor another stimulus?

Rep. BOEHNER: And so I believe that we need to take a new approach. We didn't take that new approach in the House when they passed their second stimulus bill in December. It was all the same kind of spending. I believe that if we're going to get the economy going again, we have to allow American families and small businesses to keep more of what they earned. Until there's more money in their hands, we're not going to see the economy rebound quickly.

The second area would be in the area of controlling spending. The president is expected to announce a $15 billion spending reduction that would be in effect over the next three years. I applaud the president for taking a step in the right direction, but I have to say it's a very modest step in the right direction.

If you look at discretionary spending here in Washington over the last two years, it's increased over 20 percent. And in addition to discretionary spending, why don't we end TARP? Why don't we stop the stimulus money that hasn't been spent and put that money back in the bank to pay down the debt that's still over a trillion dollars?

INSKEEP: Just so I understand, you mentioned the stimulus. If there is a second stimulus that includes some tax cuts - which is, I think, what you said you want - and also includes some things that more liberal members of the House would want, it would require a compromise for you vote on it. Is that something that your members could support? Or will you absolutely oppose it, every single one?

Rep. BOEHNER: You know, when it comes to bipartisan legislation, you've got to look at the balance. If the balance leans in our direction and things that we believe in, I would think that we would support it. But if we're going to continue to bail out the states and continue to pour money into silly government programs that don't create jobs, I'm going to have a very difficult time supporting him.

INSKEEP: What will happen, if anything, if not very much is passed or accomplished by Congress this year?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, I hope that's not the case. The president has a decision to make on Wednesday night: either listen to what the American people are saying, begin to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way and keep his campaign promises, or to ignore them and to continue to go down this very liberal path.

INSKEEP: Mr. Boehner, thanks very much.

Rep. BOEHNER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's House Minority Leader John Boehner speaking yesterday at the Capitol. We will broadcast the president's State of the Union Speech tonight on many public radio stations and at npr.org.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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