Speaker of the House John Boehner has asked the GOP for input on moving forward… (Michael Reynolds / EPA )
WASHINGTON – House Speaker John A. Boehner wants his Republican troops to think deep thoughts.
As House Republicans prepare for the next budget showdown with President Obama, the Ohioan, in a letter to rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday, drew on history and morality as he solicited their views on the party’s next move.
“Our purpose in calling for a balanced budget is a noble one,” the speaker wrote to his GOP colleagues, who are on a two-week spring recess. “I urge you to engage your constituents during the spring work period and to bring the input back to Washington so it can inform our discussion about next steps.”
Boehner’s outreach serves a practical and political purpose during this lull in the budget wars.
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On the one hand, the speaker learned during past showdowns that he cannot negotiate alone with Obama without the implicit support of House Republicans. They have bucked him on more than one occasion. One reason they have fallen in line behind the speaker so far in 2013 is because he broadened his circle of influence to include their input.
“In January, at our retreat in Williamsburg, Va., House Republicans came together as a team,” Boehner reminded lawmakers in the letter, noting their success in shifting the debate this year to the sequester cuts, which many Republicans appear to both celebrate and regret. “We made the decision to center the spending debate on the sequestration … We implemented the plan.”
At the same time, Boehner has made it clear that the party’s strategy remains a work in progress.
In the months ahead, Congress will be asked to raise the U.S. debt limit, which provides the GOP an opportunity to extract more budget cuts from the White House. Boehner will be pressed by his conservative majority to achieve reforms of the Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs, as outlined in the House budget from Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice presidential nominee.
The Ryan budget is the only proposal that balances the books over the next decade, and Boehner more than hinted that getting Obama to move closer to achieving that GOP goal would be a priority.
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But Republican Party strategists are cool to an all-out fight over the debt limit, reluctant to engage in the kind of 11th-hour brinkmanship that almost sent the nation into a first-ever default. Republicans saw their approval ratings dip and are wary of another such outcome as the midterm election season begins.
Balancing these two pressures are inherent in the speaker’s challenge, as he noted in his letter.
“The weeks and months ahead will be tremendously important ones,” Boehner wrote, “for our conference and for our country.”
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