Corporate America’s man in Washington, John Boehner, who hopes to ride his lobbyist ties to the Speakership, seemed to blink on the issue of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans on Sunday, saying he’d agree to extending only the tax cuts for middle class Americans, if that’s the only way to make a deal. It was a sharp reversal after pro Wall Street Republicans and media tried to imply the president was the one who had softened his position during a Friday press conference (he hadn’t.) It’s the first indication that the White House may be able to win this game of chicken with Republicans, not because of Democratic courage (Hill Democrats are running around with their tails between their legs begging to capitulate, and terrified that Nate Silver and Larry Sabato are right about their chances in November…) but thanks to the polls which show extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich is a deeply unpopular policy, and because of the New York Times.
The beginning of Boehner’s troubles? A Times Sunday top of the fold feature about his deep ties to corporate interests, lobbyists and Wall Street, for which this was a typical passage:
His business-friendly reputation was enhanced through the weekly powwows he organized on Capitol Hill nicknamed the Thursday Group, a gathering of conservative leaders and business lobbyists whom he relied on to help push the party’s legislative agenda. The Thursday gathering was disbanded after a Republican power struggle that cost him his leadership position.
But he continued to routinely meet with business leaders, particularly in his role as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, and returned to power as House G.O.P. leader in 2006. Several of the onetime Thursday regulars, along with some newcomers, are among the close-knit group that routinely call on Mr. Boehner’s office for client matters, write checks to his campaign and socialize with him.
That circle includes Mr. Isakowitz; Bruce Gates, a lobbyist for the cigarette maker Altria; Nicholas E. Calio, a Citigroup lobbyist; and two former aides, Marc Lampkin and Sam Geduldig, both now financial services lobbyists.
The tobacco industry is particularly well represented, with Mr. Gates and John Fish, a lobbyist for R. J. Reynolds, maker of Camel cigarettes, in the group. People affiliated with those companies have contributed at least $340,000 to Mr. Boehner’s political campaigns, with Mr. Gates being the top individual donor among the thousands during Mr. Boehner’s political career, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
While many lawmakers in each party have networks of donors, lobbyists and former aides who now represent corporate interests, Mr. Boehner’s ties seem especially deep. His clique of friends and current and former staff members even has a nickname on Capitol Hill, Boehner Land. The members of this inner circle said their association with Mr. Boehner translates into open access to him and his staff.
“He likes to bring similarly minded people together to try to advance legislation or oppose it,” said Drew Maloney, a lobbyist at Ogilvy Government Relations. “That is how you get things done.”
One lobbyist in the club — after lauding each staff member in Mr. Boehner’s office that he routinely calls to ask for help — ticked off the list of recent issues for which he had sought the lawmaker’s backing: combating fee increases for the oil industry, fighting a proposed cap on debit card fees, protecting tax breaks for hedge fund executives and opposing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Boehner’s office said these were positions he already agreed with.
Still, with Mr. Boehner and his party in the minority, they often lost the fights. But despite recent defeats on the House floor, Mr. Boehner has benefited from his alliance with lobbyists.
From 2000 to 2007, Mr. Boehner flew at least 45 times, often with his wife, Debbie, on corporate jets provided by companies including R. J. Reynolds. (As required, Mr. Boehner reimbursed part of the costs.)
In addition, over the last decade he has taken 41 other trips paid for by corporate sponsors or industry groups, often to popular golf spots. That makes him one of the top House beneficiaries of such travel, which has recently been curbed as a result of changes in ethics rules.
Mr. Boehner continues to travel to golf destinations on a corporate-subsidized tab, though now it is paid for through his political action committee, the Freedom Project. In the last 18 months, it has spent at least $67,000 at the Ritz-Carlton Naples in Florida, at least $20,000 at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., and at least $29,000 at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, federal records show, for fund-raising events.
On “Face the Nation” Sunday, Boehner was questioned about his tobacco ties in particular (and then Bob Schieffer went into a bizarre riff about Boehner’s smoking habit…) but the news that was made in the interview was this:
“I think raising taxes in a very weak economy is a really, really bad idea, and most economists would agree with that,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. “And I just think that if we’re going to extend the tax cuts for some Americans, why don’t we extend these current tax rates to all Americans, and get rid of some of the uncertainty that’s out there, so that small businesses can plan, and reinvest in their business, and the new economy?”
“But aren’t you kind of holding the tax cuts for the lower income people, the people making less than $250,000, hostage, so you can give those tax cuts to the upper brackets?” Schieffer asked. “There are a lot more people below those top brackets than are in . . . those upper brackets. Why wouldn’t you want to do something for those folks?”
“I want to do something for all Americans who pay taxes,” Boehner said.
“If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it. But I’ve been making the point now for months that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans if we want to get our economy going again, and we want to get jobs in America.”
“So you are saying you would vote for the middle class tax cuts, if that’s all you can get done?” Schieffer asked.
“Bob, we don’t know what the bill’s going to say, alright? If the only option I have is to vote for those at $250,000 and below, of course I’m going to do that. But I’m going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans.”
Permission to roll over now, Larry Kudlow…