Boehner's Lifelong Quest for an 'Honest Conversation'

Boehner has long just wanted to talk, truthfully (and sometimes seriously)

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House Speaker John Boehner called for an "honest conversation" on entitlements and the national debt in a speech demanding "trillions, not just billions" in spending cuts Monday night. Several news organizations picked up on his plea, with Politico and CBS News making the "honest conversation" quote the first from Boehner in their coverage of the speech. The Associated Press, Financial Times, Newsmax, and FireDogLake noted the phrase, too, a one of the more newsworthy quotes of the address. Of course, a perusal of the last 15 years or so of clips shows that this phrase is one of Boehner's favorite verbal tics. He's been asking his Washington colleagues for an honest conversation for more than a decade.

  • "We have been having honest conversations with this White House for two months now trying to find some way to balance the federal budget. The only problem with that... I think we're going through 1995 and 1996 all over again because they just don't seem to be quite serious at the White House... about cutting spending." Sound familiar? The ghosts of government shutdowns past haunted coverage of negotiations over the 2011 budget last month. But Boehner said this on CNN on April 10, 1997. Back during the Clinton administration, the conversations were honest. But maybe they weren't honest enough?
  • On October 29, 2006, Boehner told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that then-President Bush's proposal to privatize Social Security was not completely dead. "We as a nation have to have a serious conversation about the three largest entitlement programs we're having. They're growing at double digit rates of inflation, they're not sustainable. And rather than put issues on the table or take issues off the table, I think it's time for Americans to come together and let's have an honest conversation about the promises we've made to ourselves that literally our kids and grandkids cannot afford." Can a dishonest conversation be serious? Or vice versa? 
  • On May 17, 2007, Boehner told CNN,  "Democrat leaders and Republican leaders sat at the White House with the President and came to an agreement we would work together to resolve our differences. It was a good meeting. There was a lot of honest conversation. But here it is, it's been 15 days, and not one substantive conversation about trying to resolve the differences and get to the resources that our troops need if they're going to win in Iraq." This time, the conversation was only honest at first, before devolving into something else.
  • On ABC News January 28, 2009, Boehner explained, "We had a very good dialogue with the president and all of our members. It was an open and honest conversation. Clearly, there are some differences. But the president was clear that was going to continue to reach out to us, continue to listen to our ideas." It's easy to have an honest conversation just after the new president's inauguration, when not much bad blood has passed between folks.
  • A year later, there was less peace and harmony. On January 28, 2010, Boehner complained, "The President said when he was talking about health care and I'll quote, 'but if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.' That's when I put my hand up, because that's exactly what the Republican health care proposal does, much more so than the proposal that he and Democrat leaders are trying to shove down the throats of the American people. And so, we're eager for the President to come to our retreat tomorrow. We're going to have an honest conversation about America's priorities and trying to find ways to find some common ground." Conversation date: TBD.
  • Eleven months after that, things devolved further. Republicans had been honest in a conversation, but had the White House? On December 2, 2010, Boehner griped, "I'm trying to catch my breath so I don't refer to this maneuver going on today as chicken crap. All right? But this is nonsense. All right? The election was one month ago. We are 23 months from the next election and the political games have already started trying to set up the next election. We had an honest conversation at the White House about the challenges that we face to get out of here and to take care of what the American people expect us to."
  • By April 26 this year the conversations were going nowhere: the White House was definitely not being honest enough in the conversations. "You know, I met with [Obama], along with the other leaders before he gave that speech that day. And we had a real honest conversation about raising taxes. And both Sen. McConnell and I made it clear to the president we're not raising taxes. And he seemed to understand that we weren't gonna raise taxes. ... Then the president goes out that same afternoon and gives this partisan, political campaign speech. ... I can't tell you how disappointed I was in the president in not being honest with the American people about the big problems that we face."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.