NRO: Conservatives aren’t buying the “culture of corruption” stuff. They know the Democrats are taking grossly unfair and partisan advantage. But perhaps they feel that the House Republicans are our guys, who we sent to change the way Washington works, and yet they sure seem to have gotten comfortable there. How do House Republicans, and you as their leader, get these demoralized conservatives to turn out in November?
John Boehner: Well, I think that we need to do several things. One is that we do need to have more disclosure between those who lobby us and the members and their staff. I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant and more disclosure would be in best interest of everyone involved. Second, we need to deal with growing number of earmarks. We need to have fewer earmarks, and we need to know who offered them and why. That would give us more accountability. Those are some immediate short-term steps.
But in a broader way, we need to renew our party. We need to renew the vision of 1994 and set about dealing with the big issues that the American people sent us here to deal with.
NRO: Do you think that conservatives are going to demand accomplishments this year? What kind of goals can the majority achieve?
Boehner: I think next week we’re going to have our retreat and we need to build a common vision of who we are, why we’re here and what we can accomplish. Now that vision isn’t for me to decide. It is for us as a conference to develop together. We have a lot of talented people, a lot of dedicated people, and we should use their talents to develop that vision and from that vision our agenda this year.
NRO: You mentioned earmarks earlier. Will the House Republican agenda include other budget reforms, such as those in the legislation proposed by Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling?
Boehner: There clearly are some budget reforms that we can do in the short term that will help us. But blowing up the 1974 Budget Act ought to be an item that we can start to lay the groundwork on so we can eventually get rid of some of the incentives in that act that drive spending. I don’t think we can do it this year, but if we lay the groundwork this year, I think it’s achievable over the next few years.
But budget reform and killing the 1974 Budget Act are not going to protect us from the tsunami that’s coming our way. As baby boomers retire, the three big spending programs are going to drown our budget. That’s Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are not sustainable in their current form. And we need to develop the confidence and the courage as a party to deal with this coming tsunami.
NRO: On immigration, will you honor the majority sentiment of your conference, which opposed the guest worker program and supported the Sensenbrenner bill?
Boehner: I supported almost everything in the Sensenbrenner bill on immigration, including amendments to make it more difficult. My concern was over a policy in the bill that should have come to my [Education and Workforce] committee and didn’t. It dealt with the employer verification of all existing employees. I didn’t have a problem verification of new employees. But I thought the verification of existing employees was a huge unfunded mandate on employers. For that reason, I took the difficult position of voting against the bill even though I supported almost everything in it. In fact, I had an amendment with [Chris] Cannon and [Steve] Chabot which would have removed that part of the bill, and the House leaders wouldn’t allow me to add the amendment.
NRO: Will the House take up asbestos this year?
Boehner: I think if the Senate can pass an asbestos-reform bill there’s no doubt that the House will take it up.
NRO: Would that mean passing some of the measures in Senator Specter’s bill?
Boehner: No no, we wouldn’t deal with their bill. But the strategy has been to let the Senate move a bill. We know we can move a bill on the House side, but we would let them go first.
NRO: Do you think the president’s proposals on math and science education comport with the No Child Left Behind Act, which doesn’t put any focus on science?
Boehner: We have a 108 math and science programs throughout the federal government operated by 22 federal agencies. I think before we create any new programs, we ought to take a serious look government-wide at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and whether we’re achieving the results we expect. I think you’ll see a proposal coming this spring to address all of the questions around math and science education.
NRO: Will you consider giving Shadegg some sort of informal role in the leadership?
Boehner: He and I had talked about that yesterday. I think he’s a very talented and valuable member of our team. I think we will continue to chat about what kind of role he can play in helping our team.