Biography on John A. Boehner

John Boehner

John A. Boehner







John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, became Speaker of the House of Representatives in January 2011. Mr. Boehner led the Republicans in their successful drive to take back control of the    House in the November 2010 midterm elections.

During the first two years of President Obama’s term, Republicans in the Senate were at the focus of attention, as they blocked or slowed any number of Democratic initiatives. But Mr.        Boehner has become his party’s central figure in Washington, as he led his energized if somewhat divided troops into the biggest budget battle in a decade.

It was Mr. Boehner who was the Republican in the room and on the phone with President Obama as a last-minute deal was negotiated to cut $38 billion from the current federal budget,  narrowly averting a government shutdown on April 8.

Afterward, Republicans asserted that the deal showed that they could impose their demands to reduce spending substantially and reverse decades of government growth even though they control just one chamber of Congress.

For Mr. Boehner, caught between the Democratic-led Senate and a House Republican caucus demanding cuts, the budget compromise showed he could navigate treacherous negotiations and produce results acceptable to his party even though his dealings with Democrats brought the federal government to the brink of a shutdown.

That ability will be tested further as Congress takes up two bigger fiscal questions: the federal debt limit, which Congress must vote to increase to stave off a default this summer, and the 2012 budget, which is to go into effect Oct. 1.

Mr. Boehner and the Republicans who won control of the House in the midterm elections had campaigned on a pledge of cutting $100 billion from the current budget. After the election, they initially backtracked: because the fiscal year was likely to be half over before a budget could pass, a cut of that size by Sept. 30 would be the equivalent of cutting $200 billion from a full-year budget. The House leadership announced in January 2011 that they would push for $32 billion in cuts for this year instead, and more later.

But faced by a rebellion in the large bloc of Tea Party supporters in their freshman class, they returned to something close to their original plan. The bill they passed on Feb. 19 included the largest cuts in modern history — a swift, huge slash of more than $60 billion from domestic programs, foreign aid and even some military projects.

Two continuing resolutions that kept the government going included a total of $10 billion in cuts, and Democrats have offered $23 billion more, which would slightly exceed Mr. Boehner’s original target. But he told the president at a meeting on April 5 that it would take at least $40 billion in cuts to secure passage in the House.

In the end, Mr. Boehner came very close to that figure, though at the cost of dropping most of the policy riders that social conservatives had included in the House budget bill.

The Republicans’ success in 2010 and Mr. Boehner’s ascension represent a remarkable political revival for a man driven from his party’s leadership and sidelined for nearly a decade. It also placed him squarely at the crossroads between the desires of conservative activists to reshape Washington and the reality of delivering in a divided capital.

While he presides over a substantial and energized Republican majority, Mr. Boehner has to work with a Democratic president with whom he has little personal history and a Democratic Senate leader who is disinclined to make Mr. Boehner’s life easier and who failed to consider hundreds of bills passed by the House even when his own party ran it.

Given his own background, Mr. Boehner appeared to have special credentials for the job of providing a bridge between Tea Party activism and Washington pragmatism. But he did not count on a freshman class of Republicans bent on sweeping fiscal reform — even at the cost of a government shutdown like the ones in 1995.



Mr. Boehner arrived in Washington in 1991 as something of a pre-Tea Party rabble rouser, confronting the entrenched Democratic leadership over its iron-fisted control of the House. After losing his leadership post in a Republican shake-up in 1998, he focused on committee work. As a party strategist and later as an effective legislator with close ties to lobbyists, the business community and other party operatives, Mr. Boehner has become a member of the city’s permanent managerial class, with an easygoing capacity to get things done.

When he was elected House GOP leader in 2006, a profile in The New York Times described him as “easygoing and well liked, with a perpetual tan, a low golf handicap and an ever-present Barclay cigarette between his fingers.” Though known around the House as a master of policy details, Mr. Boehner looks like a throwback to the 1950s — “Dean Martin comes to Congress,” the article said.

John Andrew Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner), who was born Nov. 17, 1949, grew up in Cincinnati, in a Roman Catholic family of 12 children. His father was a bar owner. At Cincinnati’s all-male Archbishop Moeller High School, he played linebacker for Gerry Faust, who later coached at Notre Dame. After Mr. Boehner graduated from Xavier University — he was the first in his family to finish college — he started working at a plastics and packaging business, Nucite Sales, and later became its president. In 1984, he won a seat in the Ohio legislature. He and his wife, Debbie, whom he met in college, have two daughters.

Raised in a family of Kennedy Democrats, he decided to become a Republican in the late 1970s.  A strong free-market conservative, he has been criticized for his ties to lobbyists. In 1996, for example, there was an uproar after he handed out checks from a tobacco-affiliated PAC to colleagues on the House floor.

Mr. Boehner was the House majority leader in 2006, elected in February of that year after the resignation of Tom DeLay, who was under criminal investigation. When the Democrats gained control of the House in the November midterm elections, he became minority leader.

Mr. Boehner — a perpetually tanned, sharply tailored, chain-smoking golfer — is not as fiery as Newt Gingrich or as unrelenting an arm-twister as Tom DeLay, two of his Republican predecessors in top House posts.

For Republicans who hoped to recapture the House, the challenge was to shift the focus from Mr. Boehner’s country club image and tangerine hue back to his Midwestern conservative résumé, which they hoped would attract a frustrated electorate.

But the effort by Democrats to portray Mr. Boehner as lazy and retrograde — speak loudly and carry a large cocktail — was equally arduous. He is a man who paws through large briefing books for committee meetings, Democrats who have worked with him acknowledge. He can foil challengers with his charm, as his opponents in his first Congressional race found out. He is surprisingly emotional, given to occasional waterworks during House speeches or three-hanky stops among supporters on the campaign trail.

It is Mr. Boehner’s reputation as a “Chamber of Commerce” Republican and his fund-raising skills — he has raised $36 million for Republican causes during this election cycle, more than almost anyone else in his party — that explain, in part, his rise.

He was first elected to Congress in 1990, representing a district that includes parts of the suburbs of Cincinnati and Dayton. As a member of Gang of Seven, a group of G.O.P. freshman reformers who demanded that the names of colleagues who had overdrafts at the House bank be made public, Mr. Boehner angered Congressional veterans. But he quickly became a top lieutenant of Newt Gingrich, the Republican leader in the House who became speaker when the party took control in 1994. Mr. Boehner helped to draft and champion the party’s Contract With America.

After losing his leadership position in an intra-party shakeup that followed Mr. Gingrich’s departure as House speaker, Mr. Boehner became chairman of the House education committee. In President George W. Bush’s first term, he successfully pushed passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, considered his biggest legislative accomplishment. He is widely admired, or vilified, as a pragmatist who will make compromises to get things done.

The education bill might not have succeeded if he had not compromised in order to gain the support of Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, in the Senate.


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