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Tea Party Class Would Test Boehner

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Minority Leader John Boehner is confident that as Speaker he could manage a rambunctious conservative majority in the next Congress. But some GOP backbenchers are already warning that they expect Boehner to sign a “blood oath” to stand up for their issues.

King warned that he and other House conservatives aligned with the tea party could form a bloc threatening to take down House rules if Boehner puts bills on the floor that they consider too weak.

King said that Republican moderates successfully threatened to bring down rules on bills in the past but that the tables will be turned in 2011 and conservatives will hold the upper hand.

“The conventional wisdom of establishment Republicans does not apply,” he said. “If you think conservative Republicans don’t have any place to go, just look at the Republican primaries.”

King said the problem in 1995 wasn’t the government shutdown under President Bill Clinton — which occurred after Republicans attached Medicare cuts and other items to spending bills — it was that Republicans blinked when they feared the polls were turning against them.

“We must not blink,” he said, noting that money cannot be spent without the House voting to pass it. “If the House says no, it’s no.”

Their new tea party backers won’t tolerate anything less than a full repeal of the health care law, he said.

“They will leave us if we go wobbly,” he said. “I am worried about that, but that’s why I think it’s got to be a blood oath.”

Other Republicans, however, said the party should avoid such extreme tactics — and said Boehner has the credibility to avoid them.

“Boehner is a perfect fit for this class,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “He has lived through this thing before. I don’t think it is wise for us to shut down the government, and I think having somebody that lived through that experience talk to our Members about [what] the consequences of that are is really going to be helpful.”

Other Republicans also shied away from shutdown talk. Conservative Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) walked back comments predicting a government shutdown a few weeks ago after Democrats jumped on them.

Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said a government shutdown would be up to Obama.

“That question is more for the president than it is for us,” he said. “The ball is really going to be in the president’s court, whether he wants to work with Congress or campaign for the next two years.”

Several moderate Republicans also praised Boehner last week for keeping the party focused on fiscal issues that unite them, but they said he will have a challenge next year.

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