On Dec. 12, House Speaker John Boehner finally conveyed the bewildered sentiment that so many Republicans shared as far back as August.
Speaking at a press conference where he said outside conservative groups have “lost all credibility,” Boehner referenced comments that Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham made toward the end of October’s federal government shutdown — one that Boehner suggested Republicans were pushed into by the “defund Obamacare”-happy outside conservative groups.
“Everybody understands that we will not be able to repeal this law until 2017,” Needham had told Fox News — as in, repeal isn’t possible until a Republican is in the White House. To Boehner, that was a tacit admission that these groups knew their strategy was unworkable.
“Are you kidding me?!” he bellowed on Thursday.
A House GOP leadership aide told Business Insider on Thursday that for Boehner, the frustration has been building for the past three years.
But what motivated Boehner to speak up so forcefully over the past two days was the conservative groups’ criticism of the budget deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Boehner noted in his comments that that much of that criticism came before the deal was made public.
“When you criticise something and you have no idea what you’re criticising, you’ve lost your credibility,” Boehner said.
Boehner didn’t mention them by name, but four influential conservative groups have denounced the budget deal for busting the discretionary spending caps set under sequestration — Heritage Action, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks.
Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, dismissed Boehner’s criticism that the groups were pre-emptive.
“No one close to this deal was surprised by our opposition or the timing of our opposition,” Holler said. “This is a completely fabricated narrative.”
One by one, the groups pushed back against Boehner’s comments. Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, pointed to a statement Club President Chris Chocola issued on Wednesday, when Boehner engaged in his first round of criticism against the groups.
“We stand with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, members of the Republican Study Committee and every other fiscal conservative who opposes the Ryan-Murray deal,” Chocola said. “After carefully reviewing the budget deal, on which we never commented until it was complete, we determined that it would increase the size of government. We support pro-growth proposals when they are considered by Congress. In our evaluation, this isn’t one of those.”
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe responded by questioning Boehner’s credibility.
“Speaker Boehner may not care about what fiscally conservative groups do, but grassroots Americans still care about what he’s doing in Washington,” Kibbe said.
“When it comes to ‘credibility,’ actions speak louder than words. And right now, it looks like the Speaker is leading the charge for spending increases and recruiting Democrat votes in the House to help get it done.”
Many Republicans on and around Capitol Hill wondered why Boehner didn’t go on the offensive two or three months ago, when leadership went along with the “defund Obamacare” push that eventually led to the government shutdown.
One Republican congressional aide complained in September that Cruz, the leader of the “defund” movement in the Senate, didn’t have a real strategy beyond expecting President Obama to sign a rollback of his signature legislative achievement in a fancy, Rose Garden ceremony.
Kevin Madden, a GOP strategist who worked on the Romney campaign, said he thinks Boehner knows that the shutdown has changed things. Republicans have improved their standing in public polls so quickly because of the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, to the point where they are back to being favoured on generic congressional ballots.
It’s clear, Madden said, that Boehner doesn’t want to risk that goodwill with another shutdown-type situation precipitated by those groups.
“Boehner’s sending a signal that some of the tactics favoured by outside organisations in the past didn’t work and he’s prepared to do things differently,” Madden said.
“The last few months he was more than willing to work with members in the conference who felt differently, but the shutdown changed things. Boehner won’t allow a winning 2014 debate framed around Obamacare get lost in another shutdown.”
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