WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The man who may soon tie President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda into knots touts his own ability to cross party lines to get things done.
U.S. House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner talks with pride about crafting a bipartisan deal in 2001 to pass a landmark bill, “No Child Left Behind,” to upgrade American education.
But questions remain on whether Boehner, who once ran a small business in America’s heartland, may in fact be a partisan warrior unwilling to work with Obama to shrink the budget deficit, create jobs and compromise on tax cuts.
“Our work together on ‘No Child Left Behind’ was one moment in time that has itself been left behind,” Democratic Representative George Miller said after Boehner cited their bipartisan efforts in a speech last month.
Republicans -- many backed by the anti-establishment Tea Party movement -- are on track to win control of the House from Obama’s Democrats in Tuesday’s congressional elections, polls show.
Such a victory would make Boehner the speaker of the House -- with power to set the chamber’s agenda -- and could slam the brakes on many of Obama’s initiatives.
That would be fine with Wall Street, which contributes heavily to Boehner and opposes many Obama measures, including a tightening of financial regulations that Boehner aims to repeal or at least chip away at.
“The Street is starved for someone with real life experience in Washington and John Boehner fits it to the ‘T,'” said Chris Krueger of Capital Concept, a private firm that tracks Washington for institutional investors.
Boehner, 60, has been singled out by Obama in campaign speeches as the face of Republican obstructionism.
Often teased for his all-year tan, Boehner has cajoled Republicans to stick together against Obama measures that were rammed through the Democratic-led House, including a historic healthcare overhaul and an $814 billion economic stimulus plan.
But while he is a skilled legislator and tough politician, Boehner is not a powerful orator.
“While Boehner is OK, he isn’t particularly inspiring,” said congressional analyst Dan Ripp of Bradley Woods & Co. LTD in New York.
‘OUT OF CONTROL’
Obama portrays Boehner as too cozy with big business and a backer of policies that drove the U.S. economy into recession under Republican President George W. Bush.
Boehner says the election will be a referendum on what he calls Obama’s failed fiscal policies.
“Your government is out of control,” Boehner told a recent campaign rally. “Do you have to take it? Hell no, you don‘t! That’s what elections are for!”
Boehner has reached out to the Tea Party movement, a loose coalition of groups nationwide that has energized Republicans even while being critical of both parties for what they see as too much government.
Chris Littleton, a Tea Party leader in Boehner’s Ohio congressional district, said he first met with the Republican leader last year and blasted him and other Republicans for big spending and federal intrusion during the Bush administration.
“We hit him pretty hard,” Littleton recalled. “He admitted mistakes. He said, ‘We lost our way.’ He’s right. They did.”
It remains to be seen where Obama and Boehner will come together, if at all. But showdowns over spending are certain.
Boehner said he plans to do everything he can, “I mean everything,” to repeal Obama’s healthcare reform.
But they might be ready to talk on other matters -- like long-stalled free-trade agreements, measures to rebuild roads and legislation to renew the education bill that Boehner and Miller helped pass a decade ago.
“How well he can rise to the occasion and serve as speaker of the House, not just Republicans, is going to be an interesting question to watch,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Editing by Vicki Allen