John Boehner Scores A Big Win Over The Tea Party
Last night, Speaker John Boehner showed that he can beat the Tea Party wing of the Caucus he heads. That has important consequences for the future.
Ever since he became Speaker of the House in January 2011, John Boehner has found himself pulled in several different directions by members of his own caucus. During each of the fiscal crises that have arisen over the past three years, he has found himself restricted in his ability to negotiate with the President and with Democrats in the House and Senate by a vocal Tea Party caucus that has been consistently intent on wanting him to “hold the line” when it came to issues like spending and the Affordable Care Act, and by the outside Tea Party related groups that have become the chief organizers of the grass roots groups that these legislators appeal to. Both groups have made clear on multiple occasions that they object to anything approaching compromise (which they usually call surrender) when it comes to their so-called “core principles.” We saw this unfold during various negotiations over Federal spending bills that have arisen over the past three years, during the summer of 2011 when Boehner was attempting to avert a situation where the United States would breach the Debt Limit, and, most recently, during the showdown over the Fiscal Year 2014 budget and the Debt Ceiling that led to a two week long shutdown of the Federal Government that Boehner and the rest of the GOP Leadership clearly would have liked to avoid.
Ever since the shutdown ended, there have been many reports that the GOP leadership and the non Tea Party elements of the GOP had essentially lost patience with the Tea Party and related groups for leading them down the path to a disastrous shutdown. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of signs of what can only become a growing conflict between the Tea Party and what others might call the “establishment” wing of the GOP that are likely to continue into 2014. Last night, though, Boehner scored what may be the most significant win so far over the faction that has dogged him since he first picked up the Speaker’s gavel in January 2011 when the Ryan/Murphy Budget passed the House overwhelmingly with not just a solid majority of the House, but a solid majority of Republicans notwithstanding the fact that every outside Tea Party group had spoken out against it. To put it bluntly, Boehner took on the Tea Party, and won big:
After years of placating conservative groups that repeatedly undermined his agenda, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) took direct aim at some of his tea party critics Thursday, accusing them of working against the interests of the Republican Party.
Calling the groups “misleading” and without “credibility,” Boehner pointed to the string of bipartisan deals that passed the House on its last legislative day of 2013 as the sort of “common ground” that should provide a new path for congressional work.
The House voted 332 to 94 on Thursday night to approve a two-year budget outline that would reduce the chance of another government shutdown and end the cycle of crisis budgeting that has been the scourge of Washington for much of the past three years.
The budget approval was the most prominent accomplishment of a day on which the usually moribund House also passed legislation that would extend the farm bill through January and approved the annual policy bill for the Pentagon.
That collection of legislation will head next week to the Senate, where the budget pact will have to steer a narrow path to victory through concern from GOP defense hawks who oppose a provision in the bill that would reduce military pension benefits.
With his assault on outside groups that have opposed him time and again over the past three years, Boehner gave voice to a growing feeling among congressional Republicans that their nominal allies at advocacy groups and think tanks have turned into puritanical partisans whose posture on many issues has undermined the GOP’s standing on Capitol Hill. Boehner’s remarks came amid increasingly strident clashes between establishment Republicans and Washington-based groups that claim the tea party banner, most prominently Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.
The 16-day federal government shutdown in October, largely orchestrated by groups such as Heritage Action, became a pivot point for many longtime Republican lawmakers to begin pushing back against more conservative newcomers.
The turning point for Boehner — who acknowledged feeling this way for several years — was an effort to sabotage the bipartisan budget deal crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Ryan, the Republican Party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, still engenders much respect in all ideological corners of the GOP caucus, and his plan won plaudits from senior Republicans for establishing a two-year framework that many hope will provide evidence that the House GOP is able and willing to govern.
“This is good government, it’s also divided government. And under divided government, we need to take steps in the right direction,” Ryan said on the House floor before the vote.
But those outside groups attacked Ryan for allowing an additional $63 billion in agency spending over the next two years in exchange for savings that come over the next decade.
“Frankly, I think they’re misleading their followers,” Boehner told reporters at his weekly news briefing. “I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be. And frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility.”
This led many Tea Party groups to claim that Boehner had ‘declared war’ on the Tea Party:
Tea Party Patriots said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has “declared war on the Tea Party” with his “smug and pretentious rant” against certain right-wing organizations.
The group made the charge in a fundraising email to supporters, seeking to win donations over the public feuding.
The letter quotes Boehner’s statement that “outside groups” were “using our members and … the American people for their own goals.”
“The last time we checked, we are the American people,” the letter said.
The letter goes on to refer to Boehner as a “ruling class politician” who only pretends to be conservative while remaining a “tax-and-spend liberal” at heart.
It castigated him for passing a “back-room budget deal which increases discretionary spending, does nothing to reform entitlements, and fully funds Obamacare.” The deal, it said, “is an out and out betrayal of the American people.”
Tea Party Patriots, founded in 2009, describes itself as “dedicated to holding tax-and-spend politicians accountable for creating America’s fiscal crisis.”
The group was an early backer of the push to defund ObamaCare that led to the government shutdown in early October.
What’s most notable about the lack of any real battle over the Ryan/Murphy Budget, of course, is that other than the pronouncements from various outside groups about the plan, there never really was much of a chance that they deal was going to be blocked in the House of Representatives. To some degree, this is likely due to the fact that Republicans of all stripes are still licking their wounds from the sixteen day shutdown battle and were not at all eager to take any action that would make such an ever likely to occur again in the near future. There were plenty of admissions that the deal that had been negotiated in the Conference Committee was far from perfect, but as Paul Ryan said on the House Floor yesterday, ”In a divided government, you don’t get everything you want.” This is something that the Tea Party groups, both inside and outside Congress either don’t seem to realize or just choose to ignore if they do. In addition to shutdown burnout, though, it’s apparent that there is also a sense among the House leadership that it was far beyond time to wrest control of the GOP Caucus and the party’s agenda going forward from what is, in the end, a minority of the membership of the 232 member Republican House Caucus. In the end, there were some 62 Republicans who voted against the Ryan/Murphy Budget, and this likely represents the high watermark of the “Tea Party” Caucus, although it’s just as likely that many of those no votes were from people who voted that way out of self-protection only after they were sure that the bill would pass the House easily. Whatever the case may be, though, that represents just 26.72% of the entire House GOP Caucus that, until last night, was able to control the entire caucus with the help of the outside groups that Boehner spent the last two days attacking. By scoring this victory, Boehner and Ryan have arguably gone a long way toward resetting the balance of power inside their party to a point where the majority doesn’t live in fear of what is, in the end, a decided minority.
The question, of course, is what this means going forward. At the very least, I think it means that the gloves are officially off in what many in the press have already started referring to as a civil war inside the GOP. We have already seen the beginnings of that war in the opening shots of 2014 primary races that will be fought in Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and a handful of other states where Tea Party candidates are challenging Republican incumbents in Senate and House races. Now, it has manifested itself in the House of Representatives itself. Given Boehner’s open disdain for the outside groups that rejected the budget deal before the ink was even dry, one suspects that we’ll see the House leadership feel free to act much more independently in the future, especially on issues that much be acted on such as the raising of the Debt Ceiling (which must be done by February) and the passage of the various Appropriations Bills that will now be presented to Congress based upon the budget that the House passed last night and which the Senate will pass next week. No doubt, we’ll see a lot more screaming and shouting from the Tea Party crowd when this happens, but now that Boehner has proven that he can get the job done even when they stand against them it seems clear that their power to block action in the House is incredibly diminished. Quite honestly, that’s largely a good thing.