Tea Party pressures Boehner in budget battle

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:27pm EST

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington February 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner is under pressure from fiscal conservatives in his own party to push steep spending cuts, with a Tea Party stalwart likening the Ohio Republican to "a fool" for not taking a sharper knife to public programs.

Boehner's House Republicans are leading the way in the rush to cut spending to bring down the budget deficit, due to reach a record $1.65 trillion this year, equivalent to 10.9 percent of the U.S. economy.

Republicans have proposed cuts of $61 billion in fiscal year 2011 from current levels, a step President Barack Obama says would choke the faltering economic recovery.

But for some in the Tea Party, it is not enough. They say the figure should be at least $100 billion.

"Congressman Boehner, you look like a fool," Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, one of the loosely organized conservative movement's most prominent groups, wrote in a recent blog.

"The Tea Party movement sprang up in 2009 as a reaction to insane government spending. In (the) 2010 election, the American people spoke, demanding change," Phillips wrote. "John Boehner did not get the message."

The Tea Party pressure comes as Boehner leads the Republican side in negotiations with the White House and Democrats to work out a spending bill for 2011. They must reach a long-term deal or a short-term funding bill by March 18 or some government services will shut down.

Boehner, 61, a former small businessman from America's heartland, has been a frequent partisan warrior during his two decades in Congress. The son of a bar owner, Boehner used to share a bathroom with 11 siblings at their childhood home in Ohio. He has a natural mistrust of big government.

And dozens of Tea Party backers, fiscally conservative Republicans, were elected to the House in November, forming a powerful bloc to keep Boehner focused on spending.

"He's riding a tiger," said Republican Representative Jeff Flake. "It's tough. There's a lot of impatience out there."

Complaints by Tea Party Republicans have already forced Boehner to almost double the amount of spending cuts proposed this year from $32 billion. The House Republicans passed a bill slashing $61 billion from government programs, from education, environment, health, energy to the humanities and arts.

Boehner drew fire from Democrats last month in taking a hard line on prospects of federal workforce losses stemming from Republican cuts.

"So be it," he said, drawing complaints he was callous.

WARNS OF SHUTDOWN

But Boehner has also shown that he can cross the political aisle to get things done and has warned against a government shutdown.

"We have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face," he told a convention of the National Religious Broadcasters last month.

"That means working together to cut spending and rein in government -- not shutting it down," Boehner said.

Boehner would be among those blamed if some government services are halted, causing layoffs and financial market unease. "He would become a face of the shutdown," said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University in Boehner's home state.

"If he pulls off a spending-cut deal that works -- that splits the difference between Republicans and Democrats -- he'll come across looking like a leader and that's what the American people want," Sracic said.

Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Washington for institutional investors, said he expects Democrats and Republicans to eventually agree on cuts of $25 billion to $35 billion for the rest of this fiscal year.

"I expect Boehner to convince them (House Republicans) that they can get more later -- when the debt-ceiling comes up, with the 2012 budget, perhaps in talks on tax reform," Siegal said.

Siegal said he also believes that Boehner will reject any calls to shut the government down.

"Boehner knows that a shutdown hurts everybody. Nobody knows who it would hurt more. Boehner knows House Republican freshmen may have a bit of a hair-trigger on this. He needs to walk them back from the cliff," Siegal said.

Republican Representative Tim Scott, backed by the Tea Party in last year's election, said he doesn't see much "wiggle room" to reach a compromise and sympathizes with Boehner.

"He's under enormous pressure," Scott said. "Here's his dilemma: get as many cuts as possible while also getting the 218 votes" needed for passage in the 435-member House.

"I admire him," Scott said. "I don't envy him."

(Editing by Alistair Bell and Doina Chiacu)

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Comments (6)
madest wrote:
Attn Tea Partiers: You are being used by millionaires. 60% of the people you sent to congress are indeed rich. They do not care about you or the rest of middle class America. You want to rescue this country? End all wars. Bring home our troops. Close military bases around the world. Why ruin your own social security so your millionaires can become billionaires?

Mar 10, 2011 1:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
hasselton wrote:
Boehner and Company want spending cuts. He has proposed a 5 per cent cut in congressional salaries, which sounds good but isn’t even a small drop in a small bucket. Why doesn’t he propose a serious reduction in congressional perks and expenses, which are somewhere between one and two million dollars for each member? Why doesn’t he cut out some of his office staff and committee “aides”–including legislative analysts who are paid to tell them what they ought to know, anyway? Why doesn’t he simply look at “WASTE,” period?

Mar 10, 2011 1:40pm EST  --  Report as abuse
mpower830 wrote:
Of course they’re mad at him. He’s put aside all of that inflated rhetoric and has shown he’s willing to compromise. It’s the exact same reason Obama’s base is disappointed in him. The wishes and desires of the left and right wing fringes simply aren’t realistic, so where we end up is almost always somewhere in the middle.

Mar 10, 2011 1:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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