Our Washington Bureau and local reporter Michael D. Pitman teamed up to cover this week’s State of the Union address. Get the latest news from our political team on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics
House Speaker John Boehner says he believes that despite vast differences between the Republican agenda and President Barack Obama’s, there’s room for agreement his year on trade, infrastructure, cybersecurity and the use of military force against ISIL.
During an interview in his office Wednesday with southwest Ohio reporters, Boehner said he will focus this term on a five-point plan he laid out last summer, and those points were highlighted by the guests he invited to Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
The guests were strategically invited because they were tied to issues such as reforming the tax code, legal system and regulatory system, solving “our spending problem,” and improving the education system.
“It’s all about changing this top-down way Washington operates,” Boehner said. “If you listen to the president last night, it was all the same Washington knows best: building Washington bureaucracies that the American people know just don’t work.”
Boehner represents the 8th Ohio congressional district that includes all or part of Butler, Darke, Clark, Mercer, Miami and Preble counties.
Some areas of agreement
Both Boehner and Obama agree that there’s a need for a long-term highway bill to address the nation’s growing infrastructure needs. But Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., is reluctant to specify how he’d like to pay for a long-term highway bill, conceding that the current highway trust fund is insufficient. “We’ll let the tax writers go through their exercise,” he said.
And both Boehner and Obama agree that Congress should authorize the use of force against ISIL, but Obama has yet to send a request for such an authorization to Congress.
But Boehner said many of the ideas Obama mentioned Tuesday – including seven days of paid sick leave and free community college – are nonstarters. “He knows that there’s not a chance that we’re going to engage in some of this,” he said, adding that Obama is “just not dealing in reality.”
“The voters made a big point in November,” he said, saying his constituents were very vocal about their needs. “They want us to find a way to find common ground to get some things done on their behalf. I just didn’t hear as much about that as I would hope.”
Boehner, meanwhile, said the Republican agenda is unchanged – they want to rein in regulation, simplify the tax code and unfurl Obama’s 2010 health care law.
On challenging Obamacare, Boehner said the courts may make it easier. Boehner is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear and weigh in on a case on the legality of the federal exchanges, which are used in 36 states.
If the court strikes down those subsidies, he said, “the law is going to be in pretty big trouble.” Such a ruling, he said, would effectively gut the employer mandate and the individual mandate.
Recent security threats
Boehner wouldn’t elaborate further on Christopher Cornell, the 20-year-old alleged terrorist who authorities said wanted to bomb the U.S. Capitol and shoot those who tried to escape. Authorities had Cornell under surveillance Boehner said in a press conference earlier this month he posed no real threat as the FBI had been watching him. He was arrested after he purchased 600 rounds of ammunition from Point Blank Range & Gun Shop in Hamilton County.
But the threats by Michael Hoyt, the 44-year-old bartender from Boehner’s neighborhood country club wasn’t like any other threats he’s received before.
“It’s at least a monthly occurrence that something happens,” Boehner said on threats on his life. “The young man clearly has some psychological problems. I don’t want to say any more about it. It’s one thing when you get some threat a thousand miles away, it’s another when you live three doors from the club.”
Free community college
Obama wants to make community college free and Boehner says that issue is a nonstarter.
Clark State Community College President Jo Alice Blondin, one of several local guests Boehner invited to the State of the Union, said she wants more information on the idea.
“Anytime community colleges are in the spotlight for their affordability and for their quality and for closing the skills gap, that’s a good thing,” Blondin said. “However, we don’t have a lot of details at this point on how it’s going to be paid for, what the states’ contributions will be, what the expected outcomes would be.”
The speaker elaborated on his thoughts, saying, “most Americans know there’s nothing free in life.”
“What’s interesting in his proposal is he wants to tax these 529 plans that the states have to allow families to set money aside for their kids’ college,” Boehner said. “He wants to tax those and then give away two years of community college.”
Boehner said students “ought to have some skin in the game,” and already have Pell grants available for low-income students and “every kind of loan program known to man” to assist students in funding their education.
Brent Spence bridge project
How to pay for the $2.6 billion project to replace the Brent Spence bridge in downtown Cincinnati has been an obstacle for the last seven or eight years, Boehner said, and the fund that could help pay for the project “has been getting deprived of needed revenue” because of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The bridge carries interstates 75 and 71 over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and roughly 172,000 vehicles daily.
“It’s real important that we get a long-term highway bill, and when I say long-term I’m saying five, six, seven years,” Boehner said. “When we did these one-year patches, two-year patches – I would hate to think we would have to do it again. It doesn’t get to the long-term infrastructure problems we have, such as the Brent Spence Bridge which is a long-term project which needs a long-term funding stream.”
The speaker said there are about a half-dozen ways to pay for the bill, but he’s come up empty, he said he’s been trying to work on getting a long-term bill.
“I’ve been working on it for three years,” he said. “The president would like to do one and I continue to be optimistic that we’re going to find away to get it done.”
After sitting behind Obama during the State of the Union, Boehner headed home to his apartment, turned on the Golf Channel and watched highlights of the Humana Tournament.
“It was just perfect, actually,” he said. “Just perfect.”