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Boehner seen holding top post despite purge

Despite rumblings from some Republican backbenchers, Speaker John A. Boehner's hold on the House's top post appears secure after key conservative lawmakers said they don't expect anyone to challenge him.

Several congressman who were booted from their committees last week have refused to commit to voting for Mr. Boehner when the House elects its speaker next year. But the discontent has not spread widely among their GOP colleagues, who generally give the Ohio Republican good marks for playing a difficult hand in the current budget negotiations.

"I don't have faith in too many people in Washington, D.C. because there's not much courage in Washington, D.C., but I think Speaker Boehner's doing the best he can with the hand that he [has]," Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said Wednesday.

Asked by reporters if there would — or should — be a challenge to Mr. Boehner, Rep. Jim Jordan, outgoing chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, shook his head.

And Rep. Steve King of Iowa, another of the chamber's best-known conservative voices, said Mr. Boehner is doing what he can in his face-off against President Obama and a Senate also dominated by Democrats.

"I think the speaker is doing the best he can with what he has to work with," Mr. King said. "He wants to get a deal."

The four lawmakers who were booted from their committees remain angry, and they have gotten support from some conservative groups who say the purge shows why Mr. Boehner should go.

"If Speaker Boehner wants to come back to my district, he's not going to be met with very much welcome," said Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who lost his seat on the House Budget Committee. "You know, I spent a lot of time saying the stuff about, 'Speaker Boehner's doing the best job he can do.' I did that, you know, for a year, year and a half. We're not doing the best job we can do. I've been here for almost two years — it's not acceptable to anyone."

But the speaker, with a 34-seat majority with one vacancy in the 435-seat House, can afford to lose some votes and still defeat Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi in the vote for the speakership next year.

Mr. Boehner is in the middle of negotiations with Mr. Obama over the looming "fiscal cliff," which will see across-the-board tax increases on Jan. 1, followed by automatic spending cuts on Jan. 2 if the White House and Congress fail to reach a longterm budget deal.

Even though his offer of $800 billion in tax increases clashes with conservative orthodoxy, Mr. Boehner has kept the support of conservatives, who blame Mr. Obama instead.

"Keep in mind — what's the speaker up against?" said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. "I just keep looking for some evidence, in fact, that the president's negotiating in good faith and he doesn't actually want to go over the cliff."

But Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, suggested Mr. Boehner was the one who could be delaying a deal in order to avoid recriminations from his own caucus until he has won re-election to his post early next year.

"I hope he would not avoid the tough decisions, simply to take us into January after his swearing-in, though I have become increasingly worried that is exactly what was going on," Mr. Van Hollen said at a breakfast Wednesday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel dismissed Mr. Van Hollen's theory as "nutty."

"The speaker is doing everything possible to avert the fiscal cliff and protect American jobs right now," Mr. Steel said. "The White House just refuses to get serious about solving our country's spending problem."

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