The Republican leader was the first U.S. Speaker of the House to address the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center for Political Leadership, which has hosted several high-profile figures, including former President George W. Bush.
In front of an audience that included local business leaders and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, the speaker stressed that overlap between the two parties in the past has produced historic legislation in the past. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows people are losing faith in elected officials and barely 10 percent trust the government.
Boehner says the country faces duel economic problems of unemployment and debt, and that federal lawmakers have to overcome partisan obstacles to deliver solutions.
“Faith in our government has never been high, but it doesn’t need to be this low. The American people need to see that despite our differences we can get things done. We can start by recognizing that common ground and comprise are not the same thing,” he says.
Boehner says the Republican-controlled Congress and the president have come together on a few issues, such as trade agreements with South Korean and repealing an IRS bill on small businesses. But his tenure has been marked by battles with his GOP colleagues backed by the Tea Party as much as clashes with President Obama, such as the brinkmanship that almost put the government in default.
Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who attended the speech, says Boeher hasn’t challenged the intransigence in the House amongst his own caucus and that compromise will be needed to fix the country’s major problems.
“The idea that there’s enough common ground between the two parties now to deal with the serious challenges is I think a pipe dream. The fact is we’re going to have to compromise if we’re going to deal with these problems and you heard him say he wasn’t willing to compromise,” he says.
No place will the question of compromise be tested more than how Congress responds to the so-called “Supercommittee”, which is charged with recommending $1.2 trilling in cuts before Nov. 23. The group’s plan will have to be approved by both chambers of Congress, and economists say it must include reforms to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
“Nobody thought the committee’s job would be easy and clearly it hasn’t been,” says Boehner. “But I have high hopes in the days ahead that we can find common ground. Everyone knows that we can’t solve the debt crisis without making structural changes to our entitlement programs. You know it. I know. President Obama knows it. If we don’t make these changes the programs won’t be there for (future) generation(s) when you need them.”
But while the speaker has committed to the group’s success and advocates reforming entitlement programs, he has stood against any defense cuts that are likely to be included in the plan.
During the question-and-answer session, Boehner also shared his views on a number of other issues, including criticizing the president’s health care law and expressing concerns about the pending withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year. When asked about the Occupy Wall Street movement, however, Boehner indicated he understood the “frustrations” that demonstrators behind the protests have.
“The economy is not producing jobs like they want and there’s lot of erosion of confidence in our government and frankly, under the First Amendment, people have the right to speak out and to protest,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean they have the permission to violate the law. I lived through the riots over the Vietnam War in the late 60s and early 70s, and you can see how some of those activities got out of control. A lot of us lived through the race riots of 1968, that clearly was out of control. And I’m hopeful these demonstrations will continue to be peaceful.”
The comments were tempered compared to Boehner’s deputy in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who slammed protesters as “mobs” earlier this month before he later recanted.