For the second day in a row, House Speaker John Boehner has lashed out at conservative groups for opposing the Murray-Ryan budget agreement. The absurdity of those groups’ position and the changing political dynamics within the Republican Party have finally aligned so that Boehner is free to openly attack them.
Yesterday morning, the speaker snapped at his press conference saying, “They’re using the American people for their own purposes. This is ridiculous.”
When another reporter attempted to ask him another question, Boehner cut him off.
“You mean the groups that came out opposed to it before they ever saw it?” he snarked. “If you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.”
Today, Boehner did not back down. He said such conservative groups have “lost all credibility” and are “misleading their members.”
This raises an interesting question: Why would Boehner attack the Tea Party groups now after he steadfastly refused to do so in October? Back during and before the government shutdown, if Boehner had brought a clean continuing resolution (CR) to the floor, it would have passed. But the Tea Party was adamant that he not do so and that President Obama would eventually cave. Boehner listened to them and dragged the country through a 16 day government shutdown. When we hit the debt ceiling deadline, the Republican leadership had no choice but to give up their hostage-taking and relent.
It was clear from the beginning that the shutdown would be a political nightmare for the Republican Party, but Boehner still went along with it. The same dynamic exists now, but there are five important differences between now and October that changed the incentives for his decision.
Here they are:
- The Tea Party’s demands are more absurd now. The Murray-Ryan budget deal is small. It relieves a bit of the sequester in 2014 and 2015 and the increased user fee (tax increase) that conservatives are furious at amounts to $US1.3 billion a year. Conservative groups are flipping out over that. During the government shutdown, those groups were deluding themselves that they had any chance of actually stopping the law, but at least their goals were grande enough to make a government shutdown worth it in theory. This time, Boehner could risk putting a budget at sequester levels on the floor, but it would likely fail when Republican defence hawks side with Democrats to kill it. That leaves the options as the Murray-Ryan deal or a government shutdown. It’s insane that these conservative groups are furious at Republican leadership for choosing the former.
- He has Paul Ryan on his side. This is big. During the shutdown, Ryan mostly stayed clear of the controversy. The politics of it were horrible for the party and Ryan wanted no part of it. This time, he’s center stage. Ryan has immense Tea Party support and many members of the House GOP are going along with the deal purely because of him. Boehner will take a lot less heat with Ryan standing beside him.
- The House GOP Majority is secure. Back in October, the greatest threat to the Republicans’ House majority was not from the Democratic Party. It was from a nasty, intra-party civil war that dragged Republicans through the mud. Now, after the catastrophic Obamacare launch, there is no way at all that Republicans lose the majority. No matter how nasty the GOP civil war gets, the majority is secure. That gives Boehner little reason to listen to the Tea Party.
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already started that war. Even if Boehner wanted to keep the party unified, it would be very difficult from him to do so as McConnell has already made it clear that he is ready to go toe-to-toe with the Tea Party. The minority leader is not looking to defeat only his primary challenger, Matt Bevin, but he wants to decisively win back control of the party by making the 2014 Republican primary an establishment-versus-Tea Party battle. Boehner can do nothing to stop it.
- He wants to keep the focus on Obamacare. As Joe Weisenthal writes, the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov has given the Republican Party every incentive to make a deal. The last thing the party needs is another Republican-created government shutdown to distract from the law’s failures. Democrats already reaped the benefits from the first shutdown when the media ignored the website’s first two weeks. Boehner has no intention of letting that happen a second time.
Boehner is now fully incentivized to take on these conservative groups. Recent developments with Obamacare and the Republican party have placated any fears he has about the consequences of a GOP civil war. Undoubtedly, he long ago was fed up with these outside groups, but held his tongue knowing that lashing out at them would only make things were. That political dynamic no longer exists. Boehner is ready to join McConnell in the 2014 war for control of the Republican Party.
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