News / USA

Analysts: Boehner-Obama Clash Likely

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress and will likely elevate him to speaker of the House, during an election night gathering hosted by the National Republican Congressional
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress and will likely elevate him to speaker of the House, during an election night gathering hosted by the National Republican Congressional

Sweeping Republican Party victories in Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections will enable the party to take majority control of the House of Representatives away from Democrats when the new Congress convenes in in January.  Republican minority leader John Boehner is expected to become the new Speaker of the House.  Analysts say Boehner will be one of the most powerful and public faces of the conservative challenge to President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress.

Humble beginnings

In his official congressional biography, Republican Representative John Boehner describes himself as a "straight-shooting and relentless advocate for freedom and security."

The 60-year-old former businessman often reminds voters of his humble origins.  He was born in the midwestern city of Cincinnati, Ohio and was one of 12 brothers and sisters who grew up helping his father run a neighborhood bar.

Boehner told the story in an emotional victory speech on Tuesday night after winning re-election to Congress.

"I have spent my whole life chasing the American dream," an emotional Boehner told the crowd. "All right.  Listen, I bet a lot of you know I started out mopping floors, waiting tables and tending bar at my dad's tavern."

After graduating from college, Boehner worked in the plastics industry and served in the Ohio state legislature, before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990.  

Congressional accomplishments

In Congress, Boehner helped craft what was called the "Contract with America" championed by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  In 1994, Gingrich waged a battle to limit government spending with Democratic President Bill Clinton that forced a temporary shutdown of the federal government.  Analysts say the episode hurt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans.  And Bill Clinton was re-elected president two years later.

Political analyst Larry Sabato says Boehner should learn from that experience and from the highly partisan leadership style of current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"I think if Boehner is smart, he will learn from the Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi disasters and keep as low a profile as he can," Sabato said. " We will see how smart he is.  He is said to be very clever.  If he is smart, then he will resist the celebrity that comes with this position."

Republicans who know Boehner describe him as more of a behind-the-scenes tactician than a visionary leader like Gingrich.

Give and take

Congressional Quarterly Weekly magazine Managing Editor David Hawkings says Boehner is a compromiser.  

"It was John Boehner who worked with [the late Massachusetts Democratic Senator] Ted Kennedy, and [California Democratic Representative] George Miller and [former Republican President] George W. Bush 10 years ago to get the large education overhaul known as "No Child Left Behind," which is one of the signature bipartisan achievements in recent years.  John Boehner knows how to cut a deal.  But he will be under terrific pressure not to cut any deals from the new and very angry freshmen Republicans who are coming in under his wing."

Political analyst Larry Sabato agrees that Boehner's expected House speakership will likely be very difficult because of the newly-elected so-called Tea Party Republicans who are calling for a more limited role for government, low taxes and a stronger military.

"John Boehner will have his hands full just keeping his Republican caucus together," Sabato said.  "There is a significant split between mainstream Republicans and Tea Party Republicans.  And his difficulty is going to be that the Senate is controlled by Democrats and the White House is controlled by Democrats.  It is difficult to think of a single major piece of legislation he can get through the House that will make it through the Senate or that will be signed by President Obama."

Republican message

During his victory speech, John Boehner addressed what he sees as the message of Tuesday's Republican victories for President Obama.

"While our new majority will serve as your voice in the people's house, we must remember it is the president who sets the agenda for our government," he said. "The American people have sent an unmistakable message to him tonight.  And that message is 'Change Course!'"

Obama reaction

In a news conference on Wednesday, President Obama said he is willing to work with Republicans to improve economic conditions for average Americans, who are frustrated at the pace of change.

But Larry Sabato is skeptical that the president and Boehner will be able to find common ground.

"There will be a lot of happy talk for the next couple of weeks.  Wise people won't believe a bit of it," he said.  "We have the most polarized political parties in modern times.  They have almost nothing in common; they don't believe in the same things; they don't overlap enough to come up with legislation that is compromise."

Analysts says that as the presumptive next House Speaker, John Boehner appears to be on a collision course with the president and Democrats on extending Bush era tax cuts, on raising the federal debt ceiling and on a desire by many Republicans to dismantle President Obama's landmark health care reform legislation.

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