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House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) meets with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Barack Obama in the first days of the new Congress.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) meets with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Barack Obama in the first days of the new Congress. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Obama has taken office with the promise that he will transcend old divisions. Whether he's successful may depend partly on House Minority Leader John Boehner, who has pledged that Republicans will not be the "party of 'no.' " But that doesn't mean he agrees with Democrats on every issue.
Take, for example, this argument Obama made in his inaugural address:
"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."
Asked whether the president is correct in saying that the long-running debating over big vs. small government is over, Boehner told NPR's Steve Inskeep, "I'm not sure that anyone knows exactly what he was trying to say.
"Clearly, in our society, there is a role for government. And by and large, liberals tend to believe that government's the answer for almost anything," Boehner said. "I and most Republicans believe that a smaller, less costly government gives us a healthier economy and a healthier society."
That difference of opinion produces tension — especially when it comes to finding solutions to economic problems, says Boehner, who expects to be a voice of opposition even as he works with the Democratic majority in Congress and the White House.
The Ohio lawmaker has criticized parts of the Democrats' proposed stimulus plan, including a provision that would direct $400 million to NASA to study global warming.
"Remember, the goal of the stimulus package is to preserve jobs and help create new jobs in America," Boehner said. "And I don't know how giving NASA $400 million to study global warming is going to meet the goals."
Besides, he said, money has already been allocated to the CIA to study global warming.
Although most House members "think that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed," Boehner said the best way to do that remains in doubt.
"We've never gotten into the debate and the discussion about the consequences of trying to deal with it, and how expensive it will be and the changes it will make to our society," Boehner said. "And the fact that if we don't have our industrial partners around the world engage with us, what does that mean in terms of job loss in the U.S.?"
Asked if he thinks global warming is going to be a central issue of 2009, Boehner said he does.
"We're going to have debates," he said. "We're going to start to see policy proposals; we've had a lot of discussion. But there hasn't really been any serious policy proposals laid on the table. There really hasn't been the challenge of different ideas. I think that's likely to start this year."
Regarding how that debate might occur — given the Democratic majority in the House and Senate and a Democratic president in office, Boehner said, "Part of our job is to work with the new administration, to work with our Democratic colleagues, when we think what they're doing is in the nation's best interest."
There will be disagreements, he said, but that doesn't mean there can't be discussion.
"Our job is not to be the party of 'no,' " Boehner said. "We need to be willing to put our solutions out there — or what I would call our better solutions. And if we're not willing to put our better solution out there, then we ought to reconsider the position we're taking."