Despite a rocky few weeks during the “fiscal cliff” fight, US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner won re-election on Thursday and will again lead Republicans as they take on the White House over federal spending.
Boehner defeated House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi 220-192 in a vote on the opening day of the 113th Congress and vowed to use his second term to shrink the national debt of US$16 trillion to prevent it from “draining free enterprise.”
The Ohio congressman narrowly avoided the embarrassment of having to go to a second round of voting, as 12 conservatives held back their support for him. It was the closest margin of any speaker vote since 1997.
However, without a challenger from inside his party, Boehner’s re-election was never in doubt even though he has struggled to control an unruly group of fiscal conservatives in his caucus.
True to form, the often emotional Boehner shed a tear or two as he took the gavel and spelled out the challenges ahead.
“Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems,” he said.
At US$16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state,” he said.
Questions were asked about Boehner’s speakership when conservative Tea Party-backed lawmakers delivered him a stinging defeat last month by rejecting a proposal of his during talks with US President Barack Obama to raise taxes on millionaires. Boehner also came under fire for voting on Tuesday for a compromise deal to prevent the US economy from falling off the fiscal cliff and for being slow to approve aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy in the northeast.
Congress was set to vote yesterday on the first large aid package for victims of the deadly storm. It was voting on a US$9.7 billion measure to pay flood insurance claims after a vote on Sandy aid by the outgoing, Republican-controlled House was put off earlier this week. New Jersey’s famously outspoken Republican governor, Chris Christie, erupted in response at his own party and joined New York’s Democratic governor in calling the move a “disgrace.”
Trying to keep calm, Boehner assured lawmakers that votes on the states’ entire request for more than US$60 billion in aid would be held by the middle of the month.