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Congress: What will Boehner do?

Politico wonders, what will John Boehner do? “The rush to bipartisanship could grind to an abrupt halt in the House,” Politico writes, adding, “Speaker John Boehner is once again trapped in a tough position: If he doesn’t move on Senate-passed gun and immigration compromises, the House risks looking like it is obstructing the will of the American people. Should Boehner achieve consensus among Republicans on both issues, it could re-establish him as a deal maker and a central figure in upcoming legislative debates, while helping the House move on to more comfortable political and policy grounds. Publicly, Boehner is being circumspect about how he’ll handle eventual gun and immigration legislation, promising to consider both issues if they pass the Senate — his aides are still skeptical they will. But behind the scenes, his team is planning, and GOP lawmakers are pushing him and Republican leaders in multiple directions.”

“There aren't too many votes with the potential to make or break a congressional career, but the upcoming gun-control showdown on Capitol Hill is one of them,” National Journal notes, adding, “Rightly or wrongly, scores of defeats in the past 20 years have been blamed on votes that live in political infamy: Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget that raised taxes, the 10-year assault-weapons ban passed in 1994, the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (better known as the bank bailout), and the 2010 Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare). Support for gun control in particular is perceived as a career killer.”

But the NRA’s “electoral record isn’t as bulletproof as you might think. As Dorothy Samuels noted in The New York Times in 2009, several factors contributed to the Republican sweep of 1994. Clinton went on to highlight his gun-control successes in his winning 1996 campaign. And four years later, gun-rights stalwarts backed by the NRA lost to Democrats in Senate elections in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington.”

But for Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, the gun deal is good politics, Roll Call notes. (By the way, Toomey said the only way he’d do the press conference on guns yesterday with Joe Manchin was if Chuck Schumer wasn’t there.)

Just how easy is it to demagogue entitlement cuts? Here was Greg Walden, the head of the NRCC, the group responsible for trying to elect members of the House, on CNN on President Obama’s budget:

“I thought it was very intriguing in that his budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will. We haven’t seen all the detail yet, so we’ll look at it, but I’ll tell you, when he’s going after seniors the way he’s already done on ObamaCare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put it into ObamaCare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country. I think he’s going to have a lot of pushback from some of the major senior organizations on this and Republicans as well.”

Asked specifically about chained CPI, Walden said, “You’re trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors. And I just don’t think it’s the right way to go.” Asked if Ryan’s budget makes entitlement cuts, he said, “Yes, but it doesn’t do that. … Further, I think it really does go at seniors in a way that they’re going to be shocked coming out of this administration.”

Walden’s stance breaks with Republican leadership, but an NRCC spokesman doubled down, telling Poltiico: “He believes it’s wrong to cut benefits for seniors to pay for more wasteful spending.”

The Club for Growth pushed back: “Greg Walden ought to think about clarifying his remarks on chained CPI, and think about clarifying soon. I’m sure his constituents would like to know his opinion,” said Club President Chris Chocola.

The Wall Street Journal: “Some fissures are emerging in the Republican reaction to President Barack Obama’s new budget plan.” Walden’s “assertion may preview a Republican line of attack in the midterm elections next year… Yet some prominent Republicans and conservative groups have voiced support for Mr. Obama’s interest in reducing Social Security costs.”

And: “In a statement Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) sounded a different note than Mr. Walden. Mr. Boehner said the president ‘does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget.’”

The Hill: “The comments contrast with the response from Boehner and other GOP leaders, who praised Obama for sticking his neck out on entitlements.”

And: “In last year’s presidential campaign Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) attacked Obama for cutting Medicare spending in order to enact ObamaCare, even though his own budget also counted the savings. The 2014 Ryan budget also contains the same cuts to Medicare spending. The budget chairman argues that the key difference is that he is using the cuts to reduce the deficit instead of creating a new entitlement.”

Norm Ornstein pens his last column for Roll Call, though he says he’s moving on to another publication. He decides to take a look back at how Congress has changed in his 20 years of writing, and it’s not for the better. “The most significant changes have come from, and been driven by, Republicans,” he notes.

More: “The permanent campaign also means that demonization of adversaries for political purposes has poisoned comity and added to the tribal atmosphere in the House. The House in 1993-94 had a significant contingent of moderate and even liberal Republicans, all of whom joined in the party strategy to oppose en bloc — one reason being that Democratic insensitivity and arrogance, bred by decades of hegemony, radicalized many of them. But on many other lower-profile issues, Republicans were able and willing to work with Democrats to find bipartisan solutions to problems. That is lost in the mists of history.

There are no more moderate or liberal Republicans. … The House GOP has veered sharply, even drastically, to the right from what already was a pretty rightist center of gravity. But more important has been the attitudinal change. Respect for the institution of Congress — much less for the framers’ vision of policymaking through deliberation, debate and an effort to find common ground, or at least grounds for compromise — has been replaced by obduracy, contempt for compromise and a level of demonization of the other side, starting with the president. This is deeply unsettling.”