Even as the House's newly elected leaders made lofty calls for civility and bipartisanship Wednesday, rank-and-file members engaged in sharp...
WASHINGTON — Even as the House’s newly elected leaders made lofty calls for civility and bipartisanship Wednesday, rank-and-file members engaged in sharp warfare over the federal budget and health care.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to set a new tone in his acceptance speech: “The American people have humbled us.”
With 10 of his 11 siblings looking on, Boehner, 61, became the 53rd House speaker, succeeding Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He will lead a House with a 242-193 GOP majority, the biggest Republican edge in 62 years.
Pelosi, the first woman chosen for the House’s most powerful job, bowed out Wednesday, saying she was “grateful to my colleagues for their commitment to equality. … And now more doors are wide open for all of America’s daughters and granddaughters.”
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She also echoed Boehner’s call for more cooperation.
Boehner stood behind her at the rostrum, and she turned to him at 2:05 p.m. “God bless you, Speaker Boehner,” Pelosi said as she handed him the gavel.
The new speaker, who had just wiped tears from his eyes, promised a more civil, more collegial House.
“We will not always get it right,” he said. “And we will not always agree on what is right. There’s a great deal of scar tissue that has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable.”
However, the era of good feeling was fleeting.
When the House officially convened at noon, most Republican seats were filled, but only about one-fourth of Democratic seats were. During the roll call to elect the speaker, normally a formality as lawmakers vote along party lines, Pelosi received 173 votes from the 193-member Democratic caucus.
In the halls and on the Internet, the tension ran along partisan lines. Democrats targeted the Republicans’ first major order of business, new rules requiring new mandatory spending to be offset by spending cuts — but not by tax increases. The changes are designed to be the opening shot in the GOP’s assault on the deficit.
Analysts and Democrats are raising serious questions about the effort.
“The rules package makes perfectly clear the priorities of the new Republican majority,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the bipartisan debt-reduction commission that issued its report last month. That agenda, she said, involves “enacting unlimited, permanent tax cuts for the wealthy and special interests while gutting programs that benefit most Americans including education, infrastructure improvements, clean energy, medical research and job training.”
Critics say the GOP has offered no specific ways to meet its goal of cutting $100 billion this fiscal year, and many Republicans concede privately it’s probably unattainable. The first vote on such cuts, due Thursday, would slice $35 million from the House budget.
Adding to the sharply partisan mood was the specter of health-care repeal, the newly empowered Republicans’ first big goal. The House is expected to vote Friday on rules governing that debate, with a final vote due Wednesday. Virtually all the 85 House GOP freshmen campaigned on a pledge to scrap what they derisively call “ObamaCare.”
“I’ve been committed to repealing and replacing the health-care bill,” said freshman Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash. “The status quo for health care, whether it was under the Democrats or Republicans, wasn’t acceptable in my mind.”
Democrats are painting Republicans as heartless. And, they note, for all the GOP talk of transparency, the repeal bill will have no committee hearings on what impact it would have.
If there is to be bipartisan cooperation in the new Congress, it probably will be in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to bring a bill to a vote. The mood there was somewhat more collegial.
“I don’t expect anything to change overnight, but I do think the Senate has a greater opportunity for working together on the issues,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., sworn in Wednesday after seven terms in the House. “Over time, the House of Representatives has divided up into teams, with so much of the effort to scoring points on the other team.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who overcame a primary loss to win re-election in a historic write-in campaign, was escorted to her swearing-in by her father, former Gov. and Sen. Frank Murkowski, who appointed her to the seat in 2002.
They walked arm in arm to applause; he kissed her on the cheek as soon as she took the oath of office.