NJ About three weeks before the 1994 election, I asked you if House Republicans were ready to win the majority and ready to govern the House. You said then that sometimes the wave takes you into power whether you are ready or not. It did then. It may now. What is similar to you about the ’94 cycle and, more important, are you ready to lead now and how will you lead differently if you win?
Boehner Well, all kinds of things have changed, and there are a lot of differences. But maybe the biggest thing that’s different now is near 10 percent unemployment. I mean, we’re going to have to start making tough choices on spending to give our economy a chance to start moving and creating jobs again. As for me personally, you know, I had a front-row seat to what worked and what didn’t in 1994–and I like to think I learned a thing or two.
NJ If you become speaker, you will be the first since Tom Foley to have previously chaired a committee (Foley chaired the Agriculture Committee). How will your past as a chairman and legislator–with many bills, No Child Left Behind chief among them–influence your approach to allowing committees to set the agenda and give signals to instead of receive them from Leadership?
Boehner We need to stop writing bills in the speaker’s office and let members of Congress be legislators again. Too often in the House right now we don’t have legislators; we just have voters. Under Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, 430 out of the 435 members are just here to vote and raise money. That’s it. That’s not right. We were each elected to uphold the Constitution and represent 600,000-odd people in our districts. We need to open this place up, let some air in. We have nothing to fear from letting the House work its will–nothing to fear from the battle of ideas. That starts with the committees. The result will be more scrutiny and better legislation.
NJ Related to this, it’s often been said by those closest to you that you respect and admire and believe in regular order. What does that mean to you and how much institutional value do you place on placing regular order at the center of House procedures and House reforms?
Boehner Yeah, I do, absolutely. The House is the body closest to people. That’s by design. We’re the … the crucible, the testing ground for new ideas and new policies. And the institutions of the House that have grown up over 200 years of trial and error are the best way to test those ideas and policies. We don’t need five members sitting behind a closed door writing a bill, like they did with the "stimulus" or "Obamacare." It’s nuts.
NJ If you are speaker, will you ever bring a bill to the floor that hasn’t been true to the three-day rule?
NJ That’s it, just "no"?
Boehner Right. Can I see a scenario–like right after 9/11–when we’d have to act immediately in a true national emergency? I guess…. Maybe, but this is a serious commitment. I know it’s going to be a pain in the neck, but we’re going to do it.
NJ Enough about procedure; how worried are you about facing a government shutdown fight with President Obama over cutting spending as much as the "Pledge to America" promises?
Boehner Look, Major, our goal is to cut the size of the government, not to shut it down. If we take the majority, the president is going to have to realize that he can’t keep ignoring the American people. They’re out there looking at what the president and Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid are doing and they’re shouting "stop" at the top of their lungs. We’re going to listen to them, and the president better, too.
NJ Deputy Whip Eric Cantor has virtually ruled out a government shutdown. Do you rule it out as a negotiating tactic or a possible outcome of a budget disagreement?
Boehner I’ve said the same thing as Eric. Our goal is to make government smaller, not to shut it down. [Republican] Jeb Hensarling [of Texas] has a bill that would prevent a government shutdown in the event of a budget standoff. We’re going to stay focused on doing what the American people want, and what they want is less spending.
NJ Do you anticipate a resolution of the Bush tax-cut issue or a lengthy congressional resolution in the lame-duck session, or are you girding your members to deal with both issues as soon as the 111th Congress convenes?
Boehner Hell, I don’t think we need to wait until after the election. Let’s come back, right now, and stop this tax hike and cut spending. That’s what we put in the pledge that we want to do right now.
NJ A reauthorization of the highway bill is due in the next Congress. Will you as or the GOP leadership support any increase in the federal gasoline tax to finance additional road, bridge or highway construction?