House Takeover: Boehner Elected Speaker of the House

As GOP takes over, Republicans pledge a 'cut and grow' majority.

January 4, 2011, 7:36 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2011 -- Four years after he handed the House speaker's gavel to Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner received it for himself on Capitol Hill today.

In a roll-call vote shortly before, 241 House members cast their votes for Boehner, cementing the Ohio Republican's election as speaker of the House.

In an orderly transfer of power, Pelosi, the California Democrat, handed the gavel back to Boehner, as the Republicans formally took control of the chamber. Boehner wiped away tears while accepting applause from his colleagues.

"It's still just me," Boehner joked at the top of his remarks, before promising to cut Congress' budget and institute a more open process in the House.

"No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road," Boehner said. "The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin to carry out their instructions."

Before handing over the gavel, Pelosi took time to mark Democrats' achievements while in control, passing the landmark health care law, tough Wall Street regulations and more.

"When I was first elected Speaker, I called the House to order on behalf of America's children," Pelosi said. "Thanks to you, we have stood for those children and for their families."

But the Democrats' aggressive agenda angered conservative voters and, four years later, Republicans have retaken control of House, after picking up 63 seats in the November elections.

Pelosi's Democratic colleagues rallied around her during the fall election but there was an unusual act of defiance against her today on the House floor. As members cast their roll-call votes for speaker, 18 Democrats opted to vote against Pelosi, either voting for another Democrat or voting "present."

No other Democrat had put their name into nomination, indicating that members went out of their way to snub Pelosi in her bid to become minority leader.

Aside from the process today, the Republicans are now focused on their plan of attack, focusing foremost on undoing much of what Pelosi and the Democrats passed in the past two years.

"I think you could sum up what our new majority is going to be about by saying it is a 'cut and grow' majority," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who takes up the mantle of majority leader today. "We are going to be about cutting spending and cutting the job-killing regulations that this administration has been about over the last two years."

First, on Jan. 12, they plan a vote on a simple, two-page bill that would scrap the entire health care law that Democrats narrowly passed in 2010.

Read more about that debate HERE.

Polls show the law remains unpopular with a majority of Americans. But Democrats hope to relitigate parts of the health reform debate and point out that doing away with the law means scuttling some pieces of the law that are very popular.

Some seniors, for instance, are already starting to get a new subsidy of up to $850 to buy prescription drugs.

Already in effect is a reform provision that guarantees coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.

Pelosi, in a press conference on her last day as House speaker, warned that people will suffer if the health care overhaul is overturned.

"If you are going to have a patients' bill of rights, you have to have comprehensive health care reform," she said.

There is little chance the Republican repeal bill can pass the Senate, much less survive President Obama's sure veto. But the House passing a bill to undo the health reform law would have symbolic importance.

The next line of Republican attack: Spending cuts. Republicans are promising $100 billion of cuts over the next eight months. But so far the only specific they've offered is a $35 million cut in Congress's own budget, which means a slight reduction in things like staff salaries and office supplies.

The specifically mentioned cuts add up to less than four one-hundreths of 1 percent of the $100 billion cut they've promised.

But behind the scenes, much of the talk is about an issue both sides would much rather avoid: the national debt, which this week shot to more than $14 trillion.

In the coming months, the government hits the limit of the amount it can legally borrow -- $14.3 trilliion. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the United States effectively starts bouncing its checks and faces a government shutdown, or worse.

While a top Obama economic adviser said Sunday the repercussions of the government defaulting would be worldwide and "catastrophic," some tea party Republicans are saying they'll refuse to allow the government to borrow more money.

"I could not be more serious when I say I'm not going to vote to increase the national debt limit," Sen.-elect Mike Lee, R-Utah, told ABC in November.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, told ABC's Top Line Tuesday that "I have voted for it [to raise the debt limit] in the past and it was one of the worst things I ever did in my life. I will not go there willingly again."

Burgess, like many of his Republican colleagues, said he wants to see significant cuts in spending before he makes any vote on raising the debt ceiling.

"I think we should use this as an opportunity to really begin to get our arms around the amount of federal spending," Burgess said. "I understand that this is our opportunity to really get some meaningful change in the way this country spends its tax dollars. And the president has to be willing to work with us."

The president, for his part, has extended the olive branch to Republicans. He said in a YouTube message Sunday that he welcomes ideas from both sides of the aisle, but could find it very difficult to swallow some of the spending cuts being demanded by Republicans.

"We have got a full agenda of cutting and growing," Cantor said. "And we are going to be about demonstrating our commitment to cutting spending every single week that we are here."

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