Newly minted House Speaker John Boehner was appropriately humble and reassuring in his inaugural speech to the 112th Congress. His pledges of openness and cooperation were welcome, after the rancorous and iron-fisted rule of the Pelosi years.
But his remarks were about process, not policy, and it is regarding policy that believers in limited government must remain vigilant. It is important to remember that Boehner was part of the Republican leadership during the Bush era of spendthrift, big-government conservatism. Like most Republicans, he now claims to have gotten the message: that Republicans lost their way before losing control of Congress four years ago. But ultimately it is actions that will count.
Republicans need to focus unerringly on reducing the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government. That will require all Boehner’s legislative skill. He will have to ensure that members make painful decisions to cut spending, even when it hurts their narrow parochial interests. He will have to avoid the push from some quarters to waste time on divisive social issues. And he will have to resist the siren song of compromise for the sake of compromise.That, not any words, will ultimately determine whether Boehner’s speakership is a successful one.
— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.