In spite of yesterday’s debate in the House when 59 GOP representatives voted against the deal he cut with the Obama administration and Senate on the continuing resolution for the rest of fiscal 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will likely still be able to count on the support of a substantial majority of the Republican caucus on most issues.
But with the tea party wing abandoning him in droves, Boehner cannot count on that same type of influence on anything having to do with the federal budget. Unfortunately for Boehner, the biggest issues and votes the rest of this year will all be budget-related.
Boehner has already been rolled a number of times this year by the tea party wing of his caucus on the budget. First, in a situation that was vaguely reminiscent of when House Democrats forced Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s to revise his budget after it was released to reduce his projected deficit, the tea party forced Boehner to go back and redo the first continuing resolution he offered so that it included more spending cuts. They then pushed for and eventually won the elimination of an alternative engine for the F35 that Boehner proposed be funded in the CR.
Five Republicans voted against the Boehner-recommended first extension of the continuing resolution that the House voted on in in late February. That wasn’t a problem for Boehner; there were still enough GOP votes to extend the CR.
But a whopping 54 House Republicans voted against the second extension 2 weeks later and that meant Boehner absolutely needed Democratic votes to pass the bill. And then yesterday’s vote included the 59 GOP votes against the final CR for the year. Again, the bill would have gone down without Democratic support for the budget-related legislation.
The question is what does…or can…Boehner do now given the upcoming debates and votes on the debt ceiling, a possible long-term deficit reduction plan, and fiscal 2012 appropriations.
The tea party wing’s steady abandonment of Boehner (or is it Boehner’s abandonment of the tea party?) on the budget this year either will force him to hard to the right to get back its trust or further towards the Democrats to keep their votes a possibility. Both choices are now greatly complicated by what’s already occurred.
Tea party types are very likely to demand a hard take-no-prisoners attitude from Boehner and some sign of good faith from him before they’ll begin to trust him again on anything having to do with the budget.
Further complicating the situation is that the votes on the budget issues to come will make the debates on the continuing resolutions look and feel like a Little League pre-season game. The debt ceiling is starting to look like it will be the place where the tea party will draw its line in the sand. Not only won’t it compromise, but it will use whatever political and parliamentary tactics it can to make it hard for anyone else to do so. And if the tea party is frustrated with what happens up to then, the fiscal 2012 appropriations that need to be enacted in some form by October 1 could be an even bigger “no compromise” budget battleground.
But knowing that their votes have already been critically important for him, Democrats are likely to demand a higher price for their cooperation the rest of this year and next on budget-related and other issues. And if, as is already being whispered, one of the prices for Democratic cooperation on the budget is an agreement by Boehner to do (or not do) certain things on non-budget issues, the tea party could find that they have less in common with the speaker over all.
Several things will provide clues about what could be ahead in the coming weeks.
First, how is Boehner treated during the coming congressional recess when he speaks around the country at town hall meetings and other events? Do tea party types show up with signs denouncing him? Does he get booed at events?
Second, do any GOP House members cancel events they had scheduled with Boehner in the coming weeks?
Third, does Boehner spend a lot of time in his congressional district with his base over the recess instead of traveling to support Republican incumbents and candidates?
Fourth, do Democrats spend more time criticizing House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) while Boehner gets a comparatively free pass?