Freshmen Place Faith in Boehner

Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:46pm

Speaker John Boehner may be facing mounting pressure from conservatives to resist compromising with Democrats on a six-month spending bill, but at least for now the influential freshman class is sticking by its leader.

Freshmen emerged Thursday from their weekly meeting with the Ohio Republican with their faith in Boehner firmly intact. “I don’t agree with him all the time. But I still have faith in him,” Rep. Chip Cravaack said.

The Minnesota Republican also dismissed questions about the loyalty of the freshman class. “I didn’t see the freshmen revolting [in the meeting]. What I saw was a team … and Boehner is the quarterback,” Cravaack said.

“He’s leading in my opinion,” Rep. Tom Reed said. “Whatever the final number is, we’re just going to have to wait and see what comes up. … We’re standing together to deal with the hard issues.”

The New York Republican complimented Boehner and other GOP leaders for reaching out to the freshmen. “They actually take the effort to communicate with us and truly listen to us; that’s powerful,” Reed said.

Rep. Jeff Landry also said he is behind Boehner. “I don’t have to agree with them all the time, but I still have confidence,” the Louisiana Republican said.

Boehner did not reveal any more information about the status of the negotiations on a continuing resolution covering the remainder of the fiscal year, according to several freshmen. The current CR expires April 8.

The confidence in their leader hasn’t assuaged their fear of a government shutdown or questions of whether House GOP leaders will negotiate a final package that the freshmen can vote for. A number of House conservatives have already vowed to oppose any spending bill that is the result of negotiations with Democrats.

“As far as having a clear path to where we are going, I wish I had it. I don’t,” Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) said. “We’re all very concerned. We know how important this all is. We need to be focusing on jobs, the economy and move forward.”

The show of support came on the same day that tea party activists gathered on Capitol Hill to demand that the spending bill include a cut of $61 billion below levels from early this year. That was the amount included in a fiscal 2011 continuing resolution that advanced through the House in February, then stalled in the Senate.

But the rally fell flat, with fewer than 200 dyed-in-the-wool activists showing up. That could be good news for Boehner, who is close to cutting a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House on a $33 billion set of spending reductions. Vice President Joseph Biden said Wednesday evening that negotiators have settled on that number and are now hashing out where to make the cuts.

Given the defections by conservatives, Boehner will need a significant amount of Democratic support for any spending measure that falls below the $61 billion level. It is unclear whether freshmen will be so faithful if Boehner is forced to concede more ground in order to pass the bill.

The freshman class started its day by meeting with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who focused on messaging, NBC News reported.