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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. gVOR08 says:

    Unless someone slipped a testosterone Mickey into his merlot there has to be a lot more to this story than Boehner stepping up to the gavel and doing his job. And it seems unlikely that at this late date the rest of the GOPs looked around and suddenly realized there were never more than a couple dozen or so real hardcore Tea Party nihilists.
    – Did somebody pull funding from Heritage Action and some of the other astroturf groups?
    – Did the Club for Growth (sic) and Norquist whisper they might not primary everybody after all?
    – Do the GOPs have internal polling on the effect of the shutdown that scared some sense into them?
    – Did the lobbyists finally decide to get tough with GOP Reps?

    What just happened here?

  2. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Probably the more business-oriented lobbying groups calling up and saying:”if you don’t smack down those crazies, we’re going to start shopping around for a Democratic challenger.”

    The question will be whether the loud politico-entertainment branch of the party is stronger than the “you know, at some point, we have to actually govern” part of the party.

  3. rudderpedals says:

    They’re counting on it dying in the Senate, as it should.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @rudderpedals: It won’t.

    Meanwhile, kudos to Ryan and Boehner for finally growing a pair. (where’s Cantor?) I will give them a tip of the hat for finally bowing to reality and acknowledging that they have to actually win a few of these things we call elections, but a tip of the hat is far as I will go.

    And Doug?

    the outside Tea Party related groups that have become the chief organizers of the grass roots groups that these legislators appeal to.

    Have you ever seen a tea party fund raiser? A raffle? A bake sale? Tea party people out standing on corners in tri-corner hats giving out Revolutionary peanut brittle for donations? You know, things that ACORN did on a regular basis? ACORN was a true grass roots organization that actually tried to help people, real people, poor people. That is why they had to be destroyed.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    If Beohner is going to alienate the fiscla conservatives (Tea Party) then who is left to vote for the Republicans. Does Boehner believe that there are enough open border supporting, big government desiring country club Republicans to make make his party viable.

    I guess since GW Bush has the legacy of being the last Republican President, Boehner wants to follow up by being the last Republican Speaker of the House since the long term goal of Boehner is to hand the Democrats as many victories as possible.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    I guess we will find out how much power these outside Tea Party Groups have after the primary’s.

  7. michael reynolds says:


    An idée fixe is a preoccupation of mind held so firmly as to resist any attempt to modify it, a fixation. The name originates from the French [French : idée, idea + fixe, fixed]. Although not used technically to denote a particular disorder in psychology, idée fixe is used often in the description of disorders, and is employed widely in literature and everyday English.


  8. DrDaveT says:

    By what logical jiu jitsu can you describe someone who is willing to topple US financial markets a “fiscal conservative”?

  9. Tillman says:

    And to think, it only took him nearly four years.

  10. Tillman says:

    @superdestroyer: Teabaggers aren’t fiscal conservatives. They’re reactionaries. Stagnationists, if you will. (Stagnatists?)

  11. jukeboxgrad says:

    A picture is worth a thousand words, and a looping GIF is worth even more. This one of Boehner is priceless: link.

  12. superdestroyer says:


    The Tea Party supporters are as close to fiscal conservatives as anyone in the U.S. these days and are a counterweight to the constant demands for increased spending (and borrowing, tax increases, and higher fees).

    What is amazing is that Speaker Boehner is taking the same approach to governance that the Bush Clan and Karl Rove have taken in the past: That the Republican Party can be the second big spending party and that politics should be about delivering government goodies to your friends now with no thought to the long term consequences of providing those goodies.

    Boehner, through his actions, is demonstrating that the U.S. will soon be a one party state because he provides no real reason why anyone should vote for the Republican Party is they are going to tax, borrow, and spend at the same level as the Democrats. Boehner seems too stupid to understand that every dollar of unnecessary government spending just makes the Democratic Party stronger even if the money is flowing to that the Republicans perceive as their friends.

  13. Terrye Cravens says:

    It is high time that the leadership took these groups on. I live in Indiana where we traded a moderate Republican who voted against Obamacare for a Democrat who voted for it…thanks to Freedom Works and groups like them. They went after Lugar and promoted that idiot Mourdock. We all know how that ended.

  14. Terrye Cravens says:

    @rudderpedals: It will not die in the Senate and it should not die in the Senate. Unless they have a viable alternative, they should pass this. I am tired of this stupidity.

  15. Terrye Cravens says:

    @superdestroyer: Boehner did his job. That is what he did. And the people who voted for this did the same thing. If Americans do not like it, they can vote them out of office. I am tired of a handful of agitators who turn everything they touch into crap acting as if they can rule over the rest of us.

  16. Terrye Cravens says:

    @gVOR08: The Tea Party is not that popular anymore, so they are not as afraid of them.

  17. Terrye Cravens says:

    @superdestroyer: I am sick of people blaming Bush. For years I have listened to people on the right talk about how great Reagan was and how awful Bush was. The truth is in terms of spending as related to GDP Bush was actually more frugal than Reagan. This is just one more myth that the hard right uses to make a bad case for themselves. Reagan would have supported this budget.

  18. Terrye Cravens says:

    @superdestroyer: This is ridiculous. The Democrats sure as hell do not think the parties are alike. The fact that the House actually managed to pass a budget does not mean there is no difference between the parties. After all, that is their job.

  19. Terrye Cravens says:

    @Tillman: And how long as it taken Reid? Oh yeah, Reid has never managed to get a budget passed.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Terrye Cravens: Not true. The Senate passed a budget just last (?) year that the GOP led House refused to take up because it would have required them to make compromises. Something they were loath to do heading into the gov’t shut down.

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    Speaker Boehner once said that the U. S is broke and that spending needs to be controlled. However, since then, all Boehner has done is ignore spending, find excuses to continue spending, and kicked the can down the road. It is obvious that Speaker does not care that the U.S. is broke and that government should be about rewarding your friends with government money while sticking someone else (future generations) with the bill.

  22. jukeboxgrad says:

    the U.S. is broke

    Debt hysteria reflects ignorance. The country is not broke. Only the government is broke. If we wanted to completely eliminate the deficit and the debt we could, just by raising taxes on the top 1%. 100% of the current deficit would be eliminated if the top 1% resumed paying the effective tax rate they used to pay in the period 1942-1981. These are well-kept secrets. Link.

  23. Tillman says:

    @Terrye Cravens: I was talking about taking control of his own caucus, something Reid has appeared better at for good or ill.

  24. Tillman says:


    The Tea Party supporters are as close to fiscal conservatives as anyone in the U.S. these days and are a counterweight to the constant demands for increased spending (and borrowing, tax increases, and higher fees).

    Fiscal conservatives would not threaten or push for a default on government debt to get what they want. Even if they were desperate, they wouldn’t do it twice. This is anathema to any reasonable or sane fiscal policy.

    Or am I wrong? Does a fiscal conservative regularly fail to pay his bills?

  25. Tillman says:

    @Terrye Cravens: …you, you won’t be able to, uhh, talk him out of that.

    Some people’s toast is buttered differently.

  26. anjin-san says:

    @ jukeboxgrad

    Only the government is broke.

    I would argue the government is far from broke. Look at the debt. Then look at the vast assets the US government controls (such as energy reserves) – I am guessing the assets are quite a bit larger than the liabilities.

  27. jukeboxgrad says:

    I agree, good point.

  28. labman57 says:

    Tea party pundits never let reality undermine their simple-minded rhetoric.

    For most of Obama’s tenure in office as POTUS, the Republican leadership’s concept of compromise — a key component of any meaningful negotiation — has been for the opposition to discard their own beliefs and completely embrace the conservative point of view.

    In short, their notion of negotiation has involved capitulation by the opposition­. The source of this unwillingness to find middle ground have been the tea party-affiliated Republicans in Congress who firmly regard any willingness to compromise to be a character flaw.

    Negotiation and compromise are not in their repertoire — to the wholly dogmatic ideologues of the tea party, “It’s our way or the highway”. Anything less is regarded as an act of treason.

    Irony — Boehner is now under attack by the tea party monster that he helped to nurture for the past several years.

  29. superdestroyer says:


    this is nonsense. How many times have the Republicans compromised on higher taxes now for spending cuts later and then, the spending cuts are never made. Have progressives already forgotten the idiotic deal the Bush I made with the Demoras in Congress that went a long way to causing him to lose his re-election bid.

    Look at the current deal of more spending now with the promise cuts in 10 years that will never occur. All Boehner did was give the Democras what they want so that the MSM would not say so many bad things about him. Boehner seems to be happy handing out pork barrel spending to his friends until enough Republicans are voted out of office because the U.S. does not really need two big spending, pork barreling parties.

  30. superdestroyer says:


    If pork barreling politicians had not run up massive deficits in the good years along with the bad years, there would not be a debt to threaten a default on. However, since most politicians will spend every dollar that the get and then ask for more, what else can fiscla conservatives do to try to get politicians to be responsible.

    I wish progressives were as concern about the long term sustainability of government spending as they were during the Bush II Administration.

  31. jukeboxgrad says:

    I wish progressives were as concern about the long term sustainability of government spending as they were during the Bush II Administration.

    FY13 spending was 20.8% of GDP, which is lower than all of Reagan’s numbers, and also lower than the 40-year average. It’s also the lowest number since 2008, and the exact same number as 2008.

    Bush spent 20.1% of GDP in FY06, when the GOP controlled both Houses of Congress. Can you show me the conservatives who complained in 2006 that Bush’s 20.1% that year was too high, and who described that level as indicating a problem with “the long term sustainability of government spending?” Just curious. Thanks in advance.

    And I don’t mean complaints about specific programs, like Medicare Part D or whatever. I mean complaints that 20.1%, overall, indicated a problem with “the long term sustainability of government spending.”

    And please spare me naked assertions like ‘yeah, sure, I remember lots of conservatives complaining.’ Show me proof.

  32. Tillman says:


    If pork barreling politicians had not run up massive deficits in the good years along with the bad years, there would not be a debt to threaten a default on.

    You mean the politicians who voted for two tax refunds and two unfunded wars? I agree wholeheartedly.

    The solution, however, isn’t to threaten default at all. That’s like driving over a cliff in order to avoid it.