Congress opens to host of fiscal ills

 House Speaker John Boehner raised his oversized gavel after reclaiming his post on Thursday.
House Speaker John Boehner raised his oversized gavel after reclaiming his post on Thursday.

WASHINGTON — Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio was narrowly reelected speaker of the House on Thursday amid open dissent from conservatives on the House floor that signaled that the turmoil and division of the 112th Congress are likely to spill into the newly constituted 113th.

Boehner, in his opening address to the new House, indicated that the Republican majority would make the federal debt and deficit its singular focus. He also delivered a blunt message to those he sees as more interested in stirring dissension and scoring political points than in being constructive.

‘‘If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place,’’ an emotional Boehner said, calling for the House to focus on results. ‘‘The door is behind you.’’


In the Senate as well, hard feelings from the old Congress were reverberating in the new.

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The Democratic leadership said it would hold off on efforts to limit the filibuster while negotiations with Republicans about procedural changes continued. But more junior Democrats signaled they are not done pressing to diminish the power of the filibuster, even if that means taking the extraordinary step of changing the Senate rules with a simple majority vote — an approach dubbed ‘‘the nuclear option.’’

‘’The Senate is broken,’’ said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.

As the 113th Congress convened just after noon, leaders of both parties in both chambers tried to strike a note of comity after the struggles of a Congress marred by acrimony almost to its final minutes.

‘‘I hope with all my heart that we will find common ground that is a higher, better place for our country,’’ Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said before she handed the gavel to Boehner. ‘‘Surely we can be touched by the better angels of our nature.’’


But discord was on plain display in the roll call vote for speaker as Boehner weathered defections from the rank and file to defeat Pelosi by a vote of 220 to192. Other choices — among them defeated House member and Tea Party firebrand Allen B. West of Florida; Boehner’s second-in-command, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia; to former General Colin Powell — drew 14 protest votes from members of both parties.

The tension around Boehner, who was elected unanimously by House Republicans two years ago, showed in the long, pomp-f illed roll call vote where each member was called on to publicly announce a choice.

A dozen Republicans either voted for someone other than Boehner, voted present or remained silent even though they were in the chamber. It was not until the very last votes that Boehner cleared the majority he needed. President Obama called Boehner to congratulate him.

Some mavericks were members who have been thorns in the speaker’s side for two years, like three representatives who were thrown off committees late last year: Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who voted for Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio; Justin Amash of Michigan, who voted for fellow sophomore conservative Raul Labrador of Idaho; and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, who voted for former U.S. Comptroller David Walker.

A few who opposed Boehner were newcomers, signaling a new generation of dissent. Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma voted for Cantor, and Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who prevailed in the Republican primary last year with the help of young Ron Paul acolytes, voted for Amash. Representative Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, started his career in the House by voting for Cantor, to ‘‘send a statement,’’ he said.


On the other side of the aisle, the dwindling ranks of southern Democrats showed that Pelosi is seen as a liability in some quarters. Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, voted for the retired Powell. Representative John Barrow voted for fellow Georgia House Democrat and civil rights icon John Lewis.