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Monday, August 27, 2012

Boehner Sees G.O.P. Victory, but Not Necessarily a Mandate on Medicare


TAMPA, Fla. - The House speaker, John A. Boehner, on Monday cautiously predicted victory for Republicans up and down the ticket in November, but he avoided saying that a Republican victory would mean a mandate for the sweeping changes to Medicare that Mitt Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan have proposed.

At a lunch with reporters, Mr. Boehner said that the nation's dire fiscal position, driven by health care spending, would confront Washington next year “regardless of who wins the election.” But he was cautious about predicting a mandate for the House Republican plan to end the government guarantee for Medicare, replacing the program with fixed contributions that older Americans would use to buy private health insurance or pay into the government plan.

Instead, he said, the 2012 election would be won on jobs, the economy and Republican assertions that President Obama's policies have failed.

“I thin k the American people are going to vote with their wallets on Election Day,” the speaker said.

Mr. Boehner's caution reflects the fears that Republicans have long held when approaching changes to Social Security and Medicare, a caution that Mr. Ryan has tried to move beyond.

After President George W. Bush's re-election in 2004, he claimed a mandate to partially privatize Social Security by diverting some payroll taxes into personal investment accounts. But after a full-throated presidential push on the issue, Congressional Republicans never even drafted legislation to put it into place.

The speaker did not distance himself from the proposal itself.

“We have a big menu,” he said. “We know what needs to be done. It's just a matter of having elected officials with enough courage of their convictions to do it.”

But he kept his focus on the president's economic policies, which he said the House's 89 freshman Re publicans had used to shore up their re-election prospects.

In April, Mr. Boehner said that “there's a one-in-three chance” Republicans could lose control of the House in November.

This time, he was more optimistic, raising his goal beyond maintaining the Republican majority to expanding it. “Many of them are in better shape than I would have guessed,” he said of the Republican candidates.

Republicans seem poised to firm up their grip on power with a relentlessly negative take on the economy under Mr. Obama. Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said on Monday that a “good night” in November should net Republicans four to eight extra seats.

The speaker acknowledged his party's problems with minority voters, but he said the economy would depress their turnout on Election Day for both sides.

“They might not show up to vote for our candidate, but I'd suggest to you they won't show up for the president either,” he said.

Mr. Boehner would not weigh in on whether the Republican convention here should be further truncated if Tropical Storm Isaac hits the Gulf Coast hard. He did suggest that the days of the four-day political convention might be over. The Democrats have cut theirs down to three days next week in Charlotte, N.C., and for the second year in a row, weather has lopped a day off the Republican gathering.

“I'm not sure having a four-day convention for the future makes sense,” he said.