John Boehner, who mopped floors as a janitor to put himself through college, was chosen the 53rd speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives two months after the 2010 elections swept his Republican Party into control.
The House in a roll-call vote selected Boehner, 61, of Ohio to succeed California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as speaker. Boehner received 241 votes, Pelosi 173.
Democrats, who had controlled the chamber since 2007, lost 63 House seats in the Nov. 2 elections that President Barack Obama described as a “shellacking.”
Boehner’s election as speaker marks the official start of a politically divided era in Washington, with House Republicans pledging to roll back major achievements of Obama’s first two years in office, including an overhaul of the U.S. health-care system.
“No longer can we kick the can down the road,” Boehner said in a speech carried live on a House Republican Facebook web page. “The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin to carry out their instructions.”
Republicans plan to use their new power almost immediately to confront the White House. Leaders have scheduled votes to cut congressional spending and repeal the health-care law that was Democrats’ top legislative achievement last session.
“The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is,” Boehner said. “This is their Congress. It’s about them, not about us.”
Details of Vote
All the Republicans present voted for Boehner as speaker. Nineteen House Democrats voted for members of their party other than Pelosi or voted “present” in the tally for speaker.
Pelosi, 70, speaking to the House before passing the gavel to Boehner, praised the chamber’s work under her party. She also said Democrats will be a “willing partner” when Republicans offer proposals to create jobs and aid the middle class.
Senate Democrats maintain control of that chamber by a 53- 47 margin. Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada returned as majority leader, presiding over a smaller caucus after Democrats lost six seats in November.
The House today also adopted new, weaker anti-deficit budgeting rules that will make it easier to approve tax cuts even if they add to the government’s financial shortfall. The rules exempt most of the Republicans’ tax-cut proposals from having to be offset with savings elsewhere in the budget.
New Republican lawmakers, under pressure from fiscally conservative Tea Party activists, have promised to slash spending, reduce the federal deficit and curb new government regulations.
Still, managing a caucus including dozens of new members, many with little legislative experience, will present a challenge for Boehner as he attempts to make the compromises required to pass bills into law. Some new Republican members are backed by Tea Party activists who have been critical of the party’s leadership.
“He’s managing a Tea Party caucus where they are free to fight against the leadership,” said Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based group that promotes limited government.
Boehner, first elected to Congress in 1990, campaigned on a pledge to repeal what he called the “job killing” health-care law passed by Congress last year to extend medical insurance to 38 million Americans. A vote to repeal the law is scheduled for Jan. 12. Senate Democrats have promised to block the measure in that chamber.
Tavern Owner’s Son
The son of a tavern owner, Boehner mopped floors when he worked as a night janitor while attending Xavier University in Cincinnati, taking seven years to graduate. He became a millionaire businessman and was active in his neighborhood’s homeowners association, then was elected town trustee and became an Ohio state legislator before his election to Congress.
His installation as speaker caps a comeback from political exile from House leadership in 1998, when he was defeated for re-election as chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Four busloads of Ohio supporters, 10 of Boehner’s 11 siblings, his wife, Debbie, and his two daughters traveled from the Cincinnati area to Washington for the swearing-in ceremony.
In the Senate, Reid vowed to press ahead on Obama’s agenda and to begin with a push to change Senate rules to curb the use of filibusters after Republicans used the stalling tactic to thwart Democratic proposals during the past two years.
Senate rules have been “abused, and abused gratuitously,” Reid said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Democrats can expect a fight over the filibuster issue and should instead heed what he said is voters’ message that they want smaller government and a pared-down budget deficit. He said Democrats must yield more to Republican proposals because they no longer can enact their agenda almost entirely with votes from their own party. It takes 60 votes to end a filibuster.
The debate over Senate filibuster rules will continue for weeks as both parties seek consensus.
Democrats including Senators Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon want to cut back the number of times a bill can face delaying tactics by opponents, and require senators to stay on the floor to debate their objections for hours.
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