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Boehner Threads a Needle

Bill Clark/Roll Call

Boehner will clearly still have a conservative problem. After all, he walked away from talks with President Barack Obama on two separate occasions after conservatives railed against an emerging “grand bargain” that would have included significant increases in revenue as well as spending cuts.

And on Thursday, when it became clear that opposition from conservative activists and members of his Conference would defeat his initial debt limit bill, Boehner was forced to scrap a planned vote and tinker the legislation.

That set off a night of arm-twisting and cajoling by Boehner and his top lieutenants, who ultimately emerged with a more conservative plan. That plan went down in the Senate just hours after House passage on Friday, forcing the principals to the bargaining table again.

Heritage Action for America can count on its allies in the House — most notably Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) and a cadre of mostly veteran conservatives — to not only oppose the debt plan, but also to remain a problem for Boehner through the end of the session.

“The damage has already been done,” a GOP aide said late last week, referring to the fact that Boehner’s laissez faire approach to leadership has emboldened critics within his Conference.

This aide and other Republicans predicted that despite the debt limit deal — which should, in theory, set spending levels for the next two years — that group of conservatives will likely force yet another last-minute nail-biter when Congress is expected to duke it out over a continuing resolution for the next fiscal year.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel tacitly acknowledged that reality over the weekend. In an email, Steel said of conservative holdouts during Friday’s debt vote, “You can’t please everyone, but — by working together — we passed a bill for the second time in two weeks that would increase the debt limit, cut trillions in spending, and advance the cause of a Balanced Budget Amendment.”

But while Boehner is clearly going to have to keep an eye on his right flank, should he deliver a strong majority of his members this week for the debt compromise, it will be a strong indication his Conference remains behind him.

In fact, Republicans said while Boehner is still backed by his natural constituency of the Conference’s “establishment” members, he also remains very popular with the freshman class.

“Everyone I talk to agrees, he’s doing an outstanding job,” Labrador said.

Labrador, who was a late holdout last week against Boehner’s bill — and who came up with the idea of including the balanced budget amendment requirement in the bill the House passed — explained that “I wasn’t persuaded by threats. I was persuaded because he listened to me.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to do everything he wants me to do, but that is true leadership,” Labrador added.

King agreed.

“You saw the vote up on the board [Friday]. There were a fair number of those votes that didn’t want to be there. It’s out of loyalty to the Speaker,” King said following the passage of Boehner’s debt bill.

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