Rep. John A. Boehner was re-elected speaker on Thursday, but his grasp of the oversized gavel is less firm. Nine Republicans abstained or voted to have someone lead the House, unlike two years ago, when the ranks were unified behind him.
Mr. Boehner faces an uphill battle against an intransigent Democratic White House and Senate, but he understands the stakes. "The American dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt," Mr. Boehner said before swearing in the 113th Congress. "Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free. Jobs will come home. Confidence will come back."
Several conservative groups blame Mr. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the "fiscal cliff" deal that contained tax hikes without spending cuts. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe called the measure an "epic fail" created with "secretive backroom negotiations."
Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told The Washington Times that the bill was "unfortunate for our country, the GOP and the conservative movement" because it had a 43-to-1 ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts. While acknowledging Mr. Boehner's difficult position, Mr. Cardenas insisted, "Under any circumstances, a conservative speaker cannot afford to lead by allowing legislation to pass with a coalition of Democrats and a significant minority of his own party."
Republicans had hoped 2013 would be the year they could finally reform our overly complicated tax system. However, with the president still insisting on imposing higher rates Tuesday, the outlook for positive change appears bleak. Sen. John McCain lambasted Congress Thursday for inserting hundreds of millions of dollars in special-interest handouts into the legislation.
Though the Arizona Republican voted for the "flawed" bill, he admits the loopholes make his choice "harder to justify today." He said the most outrageous corporate welfare breaks went to Hollywood producers, buyers of electric scooters, and algae and asparagus growers. While Mr. Obama repeatedly calls for fairness in the tax code, these carve-outs just benefit his political allies.
Mr. Obama knew he was playing a good hand post-election, so he demanded every conceivable concession. Along with tax hikes and no spending cuts, he asked Congress for $60 billion supposedly for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, but about half of the measure funded unrelated or long-term programs. The Democratic Senate went along with the farce. They played on public sympathy for disaster victims, stuffing into the bill a bunch of expensive projects that would never pass on their own merits.
To Mr. Boehner's credit, he pulled the bloated sham from the floor Wednesday. Then, under intense public relations pressure from the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the New York and New Jersey delegations, the speaker announced the House would vote Friday on the $9 billion section for flood insurance and wait until Jan. 15 to vote on the larger $51 billion aid package. It's an important test of whether this Congress will ever be able to restrain its spending impulse.
When Republicans regained control of the House two years ago, they opened the new Congress with members reading the entire U.S. Constitution aloud on the floor for the first time. A spokesman for the speaker said they will continue the tradition around Jan. 14. Members in both chambers and both sides of the aisle need to re-read the founding document because their actions show they've lost touch with their purpose.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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