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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tea Party Tiger Turns on Boehner

When negotiations on a grand bargain broke down last week, many conservatives tried to shift the conversation to the supposed failures of Obama as a negotiator and leader. My point in recent blogs has not so much been to defend Obama’s every step in these many months, but to ask more fundamental questions about what drove Boehner’s decision to end the negotiations for a larger budget deal and focus on his own narrow debt ceiling proposal. I believe it is folly to assume that President Obama could have done anything that would have led to anything resembling a compromise—the driving forces in the Republican Party have demonized Obama, embraced no-tax increase orthodoxy and become convinced that this is the moment to radically redraw the fiscal direction of the country. The reaction within the Tea Party and among their supporters in the Republican caucus in the House to Boehner’s own proposal gives fresh support for my argument.

First, these quotes from an interview in the Daily Beast with Mark Meckler, the cofounder of the largest Tea Party group in the nation.

Is there any scenario where you think it would be OK to raise the debt ceiling?  No.
What do you think about the proposal that Speaker Boehner has put out? It’s an embarrassment. He proposes $1.4 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Legally, no Congress can bind a future Congress. Anything he promises about what future Congresses will do, they simply can’t make that promise. In the real world, we call that a lie. If you promise something that you have no control over, that’s called a lie. In Congress, it’s called a promise. We don’t understand how the American people don’t get that. Number two, no Congress has ever been able, by wish or by promise, to bind future Congresses to spending cuts. When past Congresses cut spending under their own budgets, those spending cuts will never and have never materialized. It’s smoke and mirrors and the American people understand this.

Given the influence of the Tea Party on House Republicans it is no surprise that Speaker Boehner is having a devil of a time keeping his ranks behind him as the vote on his plan nears. Check out this bit of backroom maneuvering, reported in Politico:

Scrambling for votes on his troubled deficit package, Speaker John Boehner bluntly told wavering GOP lawmakers Wednesday morning to “get your ass in line” behind his debt ceiling bill…The hard line from Boehner came as there was a serious internal blowup over the Republican Study Committee, a bloc of conservative lawmakers chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio). Jordan, who is opposed to the Boehner plan, was forced to apologize on Wednesday after an RSC staffer sent out e-mails to outside conservative groups asking them to target GOP lawmakers to oppose the leadership proposal. House Republicans were infuriated by the RSC tactic, which even targeted dues-paying RSC members, with some threatening to quit the group…The RSC missive angered some rank-and-file Republicans who came under fire from outside groups, including Rep. Renee Ellmer (N.C.), Todd Young (Ind.) and Bill Flores (Texas). Elmers stood up at the GOP Conference meeting and blasted the RSC for the move, saying she was ashamed to be part of the group, according to sources in the room. Afterwards, Elmers said she may quit the RSC.

Now Boehner might very well be able to overcome this resistance and gain a majority for his plan, but doesn’t his struggle to gain support for his own plan demonstrate the point that the Tea Party tiger would never have been tamed to support a grand bargain that had Obama’s support? Conservatives kid themselves when they imagine that to have been possible. Anxious progressives who have been ready to throw Obama under the bus for his concessions should note how this episode is vividly putting before the public mind the extremism and intransigence of the Tea Party. Polls are clearly showing the public recoiling at the Tea Party vision for the debt celing crisis and holding Republicans accountable for unleashing this tiger on the body politic.

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