Speaker John Boehner (left), rules the House Republican Conference without the carrot-and-stick style that many previous House leaders successfully employed. Some in his party feel the lack of consequences for stepping out of line have made the party more difficult to gather on key issues.
And then came the transportation debacle. Boehner had touted the measure, which would link energy development revenues to highway spending, as a restructuring of how government works, and it was designed to bring conservatives on board with federal transportation spending.
Conservatives balked. And moderates — including such staunch Boehner allies such as Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) openly and publicly defied him over various aspects of the measure.
When asked about Boehner's inability to control his Conference, particularly on the transportation bill, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said bluntly, "That's because there's no earmarks" to use as enticements.
West, who has been openly critical of leadership several times since coming to Congress, said he has never felt any pressure from Boehner to fall in line. "No, nobody pressures me," West said.
And for the Florida Republican, that's not a bad thing. "This is a good thing. People can come up here and really represent the interests of their constituents" and not simply toe leadership's line, he argued.
Others, however, see Boehner's hesitance in enforcing discipline on his Members as far more problematic.
Traditionally in leadership, "there's the carrot, and there's the stick. And there's no stick" with Boehner, a veteran Republican lawmaker said Tuesday.
This lawmaker noted that Boehner has not always been shy about throwing his weight around, saying he "elbowed out" now-Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in his ascendancy to Majority Leader and later forced the hand of appropriators when he brought an earmark ban to the floor of the House over their objections.
"That was a ballsy move. ... It's been a long time," the Republican said.