In the run-up to this year's elections, many prominent conservatives argued that a Republican defeat could have a silver lining by forcing the party to recommit itself to small government principles. John Boehner is not that silver lining.
Should Republicans elect current Majority Leader Boehner as their minority leader next week, it will be a clear signal that they have learned nothing from their electoral defeat and will remain the party of big government.
In a statement announcing his intention to run for the leadership post, Boehner cited his close involvement with the drafting of 1994's "Contract With America" as well as his work toward achieving earmark reform this year to demonstrate his fiscal conservative bona fides. But no two laws better represent the modern brand of big government Republicanism than the Medicare prescription drug law and the No Child Left Behind Act. Any congressman who voted for either legislation should not be taken seriously as a proponent of limited government, and yet Boehner voted for both of them.
Not only did Boehner vote for the largest federal expansion into education since the Carter administration, but he sponsored the legislation. Shortly after President Bush signed the bill with Boehner standing over one shoulder and Sen. Ted Kennedy standing over the other (see photo), Boehner said its passage was "one of the proudest accomplishments of my tenure in Congress."
No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization next year and in his post-election press conference President Bush cited it as an issue he wanted to work together with Democrats on. If they are going to be negotiating education policy with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republicans can ill afford to be led by Boehner, a man who is personally invested in the legislation and who proved willing to compromise conservative principles in order to get a "bipartisan" bill passed.
The original No Child Left Behind bill included provisions for school vouchers, but Boehner was willing to abandon those provisions in desperate pursuit of Democratic votes. Boehner also ditched a push by House conservatives to allow some states to decide how to spend federal education dollars.
After the law went into effect, liberals criticized President Bush for not providing adequate funding. In response, Boehner passionately touted how much Republicans had increased education spending.
On Febuary 5, 2003, he issued a statement in response to criticism by the American Federation of Teachers, pointing out that: "If the President's FY 2003 and FY 2004 budget requests are enacted, Title I funding will have received a larger increase during the first two years of President George W. Bush's administration than under the previous seven years combined under President Bill Clinton."
In fact, funding was increasing so fast, he argued, that by January 2004, federal money was pouring into states faster than they could spend it. "We are pumping gas into a flooded engine," he declared.
As if his staunch support for expanding the federal role in education isn't bad enough, Boehner also voted in favor of the biggest expansion of entitlements since Lyndon Johnson's presidency.
"A quarter of all senior citizens find themselves without prescription drug coverage, and this legislation commits an unprecedented $400 billion over ten years to close that gap," Boehner said after voting in favor of the legislation. Actually, the bill is now projected to cost $1.2 trillion over 10 years and also add $8 trillion to the nation's long-term entitlement deficit.
In the wake of the Republican electoral "thumping," it is imperative that the party return to its small government roots. Perhaps there would be an argument for Boehner maintaining his leadership role if there weren't another viable option. But Mike Pence, who is also running for the minority leader post, has been a dedicated defender of limited government. Despite tremendous pressure from members of his own party -- and even the president -- Pence was one of a few Republicans who voted against both No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug bill. That's the type of strong conviction that will be required to rebuild the Republican Party on small government principles and to stand up to Speaker Pelosi.
Boehner, on the other hand, will virtually guarantee more of the same.
A month before the 2004 election, Boehner gloated that: "Funding for the U.S. Department of Education has increased by more than 142 percent under GOP control of the House, from $23 billion in FY 1996 to nearly $56 billion in FY 2004."
Boehner isn't the solution to the problem. Boehner is the problem.