Boehner: New energy policies, immigration reform necessary to become ‘nation of builders’ again

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House Speaker John A. Boehner called for an overhaul of the country’s energy, immigration and tax policies Thursday as Republicans try to steady their footing on the claim that their No. 1 priority is jobs and the economy and prove the party can move big legislation through an often-rancorous chamber.

The Ohio Republican said Thursday that America’s “top priority” right now is jobs, and took that message to the National Association of Manufacturers.

“We need a new approach that revives the tried-and-true habits, an approach that removes obstacles to growth and prosperity, an approach that encourages every firm, every small business and every person to create wealth and to contribute to our growth,” he said. “We need to unleash the nation of builders.”

Whether it was improving access to education, closing tax loopholes, or building the Keystone XL pipeline, Mr. Boehner linked all of his proposals Thursday back to the “nation of builders” theme, honing in on jobs and the economy.

“All these are the types of policies that can bring us out of this so-called new normal, help create jobs and deliver sustained economic growth. And they’re all part of the Republicans’ plan for economic growth,” Mr. Boehner said. “And while my colleagues and I don’t have a majority here in Washington, we’re going to continue to pursue our plan.”

But the “fiscal cliff” deal at the start of the year which, at least temporarily, headed off deep spending cuts most believed would have severely harmed the economy, passed without a majority of Republican support in the House because conservatives balked at the $620 billion of tax increases in the deal.

Mr. Boehner said this week that he will likely require a majority of GOP support for any comprehensive immigration reform bill — a move that would doom the chances of anything remotely resembling the current Senate immigration bill from getting through his chamber.

Mr. Boehner was also dealt an unexpected defeat shortly after his talk Thursday when the House voted down a farm bill vociferously opposed by conservative interest groups. The vote illustrates the difficulty the body is having on passing basic, albeit significant, legislation — some version of which both parties essentially agree should be done.

“What is it, 169 days this Congress has been in session and not one jobs bill,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said. “Instead, they come up with frivolous legislation, nuisance amendments and they can’t even pass their priorities on the floor.”

Further, the federal budget, with or without any sort of “grand bargain” on the deficit, is another item that’s in limbo. Both chambers of Congress have passed their respective blueprints, but a small group of Senate Republicans have demanded conditions on taxes and the debt ceiling before any attempt to reconcile the wildly different House and Senate budgets takes place.

Conservative Republicans are also demanding that Congress produce a budget that balances in 10 years in exchange for an agreement to vote to increase the federal debt limit, which the country is on track to hit in the fall. A prolonged partisan squabble on that issue during the summer of 2011 put the country on the brink of defaulting on its debt obligations.

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