Outgoing U.S. House Speaker Ensures Lights Stay on in Congress

Soon after U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio shook up Capitol Hill by announcing his retirement at the end of October, Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown by passing a funding bill that will keep the federal government operational until December.

Many reporters believe that Boehner’s retirement is intrinsically related to the passage of the budget bill. In the weeks leading up to the budget resolution, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of nearly 40 conservatives, lobbied hard to pass a budget resolution that would defund Planned Parenthood. Due to the president’s promise to veto such a bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called linking a budget resolution to Planned Parenthood an “exercise in futility,” and would achieve nothing but a government shutdown.

With an impending government shutdown on his hands, Speaker Boehner announced on Sept. 25 that he would retire from the House at the end of October.

Boehner will become the first House speaker to voluntarily retire in decades. House leadership has stated that the election to replace Boehner will take place Oct. 8. The front-runner for the speaker of the House position is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

To be elected to the House Republican Conference, McCarthy would need a majority of the 247 House Republicans. However, the speaker of the House is not officially installed until the entire House of Representatives votes for the party’s nominee, which may mean getting 218 votes. The next speaker of the House will either need support from the Freedom Caucus or House Democrats to become Boehner’s successor.

Despite, or perhaps as a result of, Boehner’s retirement announcement, the House and Senate managed to pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government until Dec. 11. The budget bill continues to fund Planned Parenthood, which may explain why the House approved the bill 277 to 151, with House Democrats providing the majority of “yea” votes. Earlier in the day, the Senate passed the funding resolution in a 78-20 vote.

With the government funded, albeit temporarily, and the weight of the Freedom Caucus off his shoulders, Boehner seems apt to revisit a few issues.

“I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” Boehner said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets here.”

The following is a list of key programs that may be addressed before Speaker Boehner officially retires.

  • Highway Trust Fund: Congress has until Oct. 29 to renew the program that pays for many of the roads, rails and bridges in America. In July, the Senate passed a long-term bill called the DRIVE Act that would renew the Highway Trust Fund for six years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CQ that he hopes “the House will pass a multi-year highway bill and send it to conference.”

  • Export-Import Bank: Though the bank’s charter expired at the end of June, many lawmakers and states are pushing for a reauthorization as the vast majority of the bank’s transactions helped local and small businesses export their products abroad. There is speculation that renewal language of the Export-Import Bank could be attached to the reauthorization of the non-partisan and must-pass Highway Trust Fund.

  • Debt Ceiling: Congress must pass legislation to increase the federal government’s borrowing limit or the U.S. will default on its debt by the end of October, said U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Though hardline conservatives have expressed their opposition to raising the debt ceiling, Boehner has said he would not rule out raising the debt ceiling in order to prevent a national default.

  • Tax Extenders: The House Ways and Means Committee passed many tax extenders as separate bills, and the Senate has passed a single, comprehensive tax extender package. White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne recently stated that  “the president in his budget has put forward a way to pay for these tax provisions so they don’t add to the deficit and hopes that as legislation moves forward, Congress will offset their cost by closing tax loopholes.”

  • Remote Transaction Parity Act: Due to the increasing growth of online retailers, state governments have been fighting for more authority to capture sales tax revenue from online retailers who are selling products in their particular state. This legislation, which has backing from Republicans and Democrats, was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 15.


With the U.S. federal government fully operational until December, it remains to be seen whether Speaker Boehner or his unknown replacement will be able to achieve consensus in the House of Representatives in order to make progress on these very important issues. Either way, it likely will be a bumpy ride.