Is John Boehner the Real Deal?

But the most ambitious reform initiatives for openness and transparency will be driven by Rep. Darryl Issa, the new incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It is well known how Issa and his committee have been working to shine lights on government departments and agencies through possible subpoenas and oversight hearings. But less well-known is their commitment to open up congressional hearings and its proceedings to citizens. On Wednesday, Issa announced the release of raw video footage of previous hearings going back to 2009, saying it was a first step to encourage “digital democracy” and empower citizen watchdogs “with the raw material of Washington.”

Cantor also challenged President Obama over his upcoming State of the Union address: “Number one, I’m looking to see some significant spending cuts proposed by the president that we can work on together,” he told the reporters. “Secondly, I think the president has been very outspoken as far as his position on earmarks. I hope he picks up the phone and calls Leader Reid on the other side of the Capitol and he insists he join in making sure there are no earmarks in legislation coming out of Congress.”

Yet the earmarks make up only a small part of the budget. And the Republican formula for cutting $100 billion from the current budget only looks at “discretionary, non-defense spending.” This only accounts for 15% of the budget. Surprisingly, Cantor said their cuts would focus on defense too: “Everything is on the table,” he said.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a fiscal hawk, on Wednesday renewed his pledge to go after both discretionary spending and entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. However, he tempered that by saying it would have to be done “one step at a time.” In an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, he wrote: “We have to earn a mandate to reform entitlements and reduce the size of government by building credibility one step at a time with aggressive oversight and common sense spending cuts.”

With more than 80 new members, most of them Tea Party advocates, Boehner will have to deliver real spending cuts. He recognizes Washington has been tone-deaf, and whether to appease or to commit, he told his colleagues they were accountable to the public. “This is their (the public’s) Congress,” he said. “It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.”

Reaction to the speech was positive, even from liberal skeptics. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein called it “as smart a speech as I've seen a politician give.” Liz Halloran at National Public Radio called Boehner an “Horatio Alger story.” Huffington Post tweets were applauding it. Politico's takeaway from the speech? “[I]t’s that he will push for a more humble House and project a subdued leadership style.” In an online reader poll by the Washington Post, Boehner edged out Pelosi 50-49% on the question of who gave the better speech.