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Obama's good for GOP, Boehner says

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By Mike Wereschagin and Salena Zito,
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
 

Editor's note: This story has been edited from its original version. During a wide-ranging interview with the Tribune-Review, House Minority Leader John Boehner said the federal government must continue funding the war in Afghanistan to protect the nation. He also said Congress must curb spending on federal entitlements, such as Social Security to reduce the federal deficit. He did not link those issues directly.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, the Ohio Republican with his eye on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's gavel, said the tide is turning the GOP's way.

"The American people have written off the Democrats," Boehner said Monday in an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters. "They're willing to look at us again."

Boehner stopped short of predicting Republicans would gain the 39 seats they need to retake control of Congress, but he said a backlash against President Obama's policies has energized Republican voters more than Democrats. Boehner said voters are angry at a government they believe is overreaching and indifferent.

University of Virginia political scientist Isaac Wood said excitement among tea party protesters might not carry over to the electorate as a whole.

"While the enthusiasm of tea party types may drive them to the polls and boost Republicans, it does not yet seem that huge waves of new voters will be flocking to the polls," Wood said.

Boehner said the protests are emblematic of deep voter anger against Washington's leaders.

"They're snuffing out the America that I grew up in," Boehner said. "Right now, we've got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There's a political rebellion brewing, and I don't think we've seen anything like it since 1776."

The health care law passed in March "pushed most Americans over the edge," Boehner said.

If Republicans retake control of the House, Boehner promised a vote on a bill repealing the health care law and replacing it with a scaled-down package of tax breaks and court reforms. Democrats likely would maintain control of the Senate, and Obama could veto the proposal, all but eliminating its chances of succeeding.

"We are going to do everything we can to make sure that this law and this program never really takes effect," Boehner said. One option would be to repeal the $534 billion in Medicare cuts, which pay for more than half of the law's provisions. "They're going to need money from the Congress to hire these 20,000-plus bureaucrats they need to hire to make this program work. They're not going to get one dime from us."

Boehner criticized the financial regulatory overhaul compromise reached last week between House and Senate negotiators as an overreaction to the financial crisis that triggered the recession. The bill would tighten restrictions on lending, create a consumer protection agency with broad oversight power and give the government an orderly way to dissolve the largest financial institutions if they run out of money.

"This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Boehner said. What's most needed is more transparency and better enforcement by regulators, he said.

Allan H. Meltzer, a political economy professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said the financial bill "does nothing to restore integrity to the mortgage market by correcting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the bill does not eliminate 'too big to fail.' "

Boehner said Obama overreacted to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill might warrant a "pause" in deepwater drilling, but Obama's blanket ban on drilling in the gulf -- which a judge overturned last week -- could devastate the region's economy, he said. Louisiana State University scientists estimate the ban could have affected more than 10,000 jobs.

Boehner had praise, however, for Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan and stepped-up drone attacks in Pakistan. He declined to list any benchmarks he has for measuring progress in the nine-year war, at a time of increasing violence and Obama's replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus.

Boehner said he'd favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation, and limiting payments to those who need them.

Asked about funding the war in Afghanistan, given his dire view of the government's financial condition, he replied: "How can we afford not to• The number one responsibility of the federal government ... is to provide security to the American people. As difficult as it is and as expensive as it is, we don't have a choice."

"We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we're broke," Boehner said. "If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you're retired, why are we paying you at a time when we're broke• We just need to be honest with people."

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