How Speaker Boehner brought a recalcitrant tea party to the budget deal
The budget deal marks the debut of an 87-member GOP freshman class committed to deep spending cuts. Speaker John Boehner defied his critics to rally his caucus and produce an agreement, without shutting down government.
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Dealing with the tea party
“The tea party folks really believe in democracy and the Speaker decided to give them some,” says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “It was a smart approach. He had to understand not only what they wanted by way of policy but what they wanted by way of process.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures John Boehner
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“Boehner achieved much of his substantive policy objectives, but he also gained a great deal of stature,” he adds. “This was his battlefield commission – his first big confrontation as Speaker, and he came out well.”
In a sharp break with the practice of recent Speakers, Boehner allowed open debate on spending bills, including some 580 amendments of the FY 2011 spending bill.
He and his leadership team maintained regular listening sessions with caucus members, especially the freshmen. Consistently, he told the caucus that he would fight for as deep cuts in FY 2011 spending as possible. Many conservatives called for holding out at least for the $61.5 billion in the House-passed version of the bill. Some called for even deeper cuts – and urged a shutdown to win them.
As negotiations intensified with the Senate over spending, Boehner also told the caucus that Republicans would lose in the case of a government shutdown, as they had in the faceoff with President Clinton in 1995.
Over time, his case for compromise began to take hold. On March 15, 54 conservative Republicans broke with leadership to oppose a stop-gap spending measure, on the grounds that a shutdown was preferable to protracted negotiations. Over time, Boehner’s case for restraint gained ground in the caucus. On April 7, 48 of the 54 reversed course to back Boehner’s call for another continuing resolution.
“There has been attrition. The freshmen are just tired,” said Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, a tea party leader. “These are people who used to stand on principle just two weeks ago.”
Government shutdown loomed
“The information that comes down through the [Boehner] team is that we would lose in the case of a government shutdown,” he adds. “It’s an axiom that can’t be challenged.”
Other tea party leaders took a more conciliatory line.
“We want to get the best deal we can. We want the Speaker to be empowered,” said tea party caucus founder Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, before the deal on Friday.
The final agreement, to be put into legislative language for final passage by Thursday, sets discretionary spending for the balance of the fiscal year at $1.049 trillion.
It includes policy riders that ban the use of funds for the transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the United States mainland. It drops Republican policy riders that would have banned funding for health care reform, National Public Radio, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases.
In a compromise, it calls the Senate to take up votes on defunding the implementation of President Obama’s health care reform and funding for Planned Parenthood.