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Thursday 2 October 2014

Boehner keeps job amid backlash

Published 04/01/2013 | 02:50

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House Speaker John Boehner shortly after he survived a roll call vote in the newly convened 113th Congres (AP/J Scott Applewhite)

Washington's top Republican was narrowly re-elected to his powerful job as the new Congress opened for business, despite a mini-revolt in his own party over the "fiscal cliff" deal and a bruising fight over Superstorm Sandy aid.

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The 113th Congress welcomed dozens of new members on Thursday to long-festering national problems, deficits and immigration among them, in an intensely partisan and crisis-driven era of divided government.

House of Representatives speaker John Boehner kept his job in a government where President Barack Obama will soon be sworn in to a second term and his fellow Democrats control the Senate.

Fourteen Republicans refused to vote for Mr Boehner, a reflection of their unhappiness with his leadership, but several more defections would have been needed to deny him a first-ballot victory.

Next on the agenda for the new Congress is a vote on national flood insurance legislation to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, which battered New York and New Jersey communities in October. Mr Boehner promised the vote would take place on Friday, changing course after he was blasted by members of his own party on Wednesday for putting it off. If it passes as expected, the bill will create just over nine billion dollars in additional deficits.

A follow-up disaster aid measure, which Mr Boehner has said will be brought to a vote on January 15, would add 27 billion dollars - more if the bill grows, as seems likely, after it is reconciled with a 60-billion-dollar Senate version.

The backlash over Mr Boehner's handling of the Sandy legislation came on the heels of a near-rebellion by tax-opposing conservatives over a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff", a self-imposed January 1 deadline for widespread tax increases and deep spending cuts to take hold.

The deal finally passed early on Wednesday to raise taxes on the richest Americans while protecting the middle class and the poor. Mr Obama signed the Bill yesterday.

Mr Boehner must now shepherd Congress through new battles over raising the country's 16.4 trillion-dollar borrowing limit and 109 billion in spending cuts for the military and domestic programmes, which this week's fiscal cliff deal delayed by just two months.

Moments after grasping an oversised gavel that symbolises his authority, Mr Boehner implored the assembly of newcomers and veterans to tackle the nation's heavy burden of debt at long last. "We have to be willing - truly willing - to make this right," he said. "The American dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt."

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