Speaker John Boehner’s right flank might not be the conservative albatross that moderates and Democrats have made it out to be, if last spring’s continuing resolution vote and this summer’s debt fight are any indication.
While conservatives have left an indelible imprint not only on the 112th Congress but Boehner’s tenure as Speaker, the reality remains that in the end, the debt limit deal he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) worked out with the White House will likely mark the second time the hard right has found itself on the losing side of Boehner’s political calculus.
In order to secure his victory, Boehner was forced to run everything by the conservative wing of his party. But since he won’t deliver everything it wants, even that show of fealty won’t be enough to stave off criticism from the right.
“While this deal is moving in the right direction rhetorically, thanks to pressure from conservatives, it still falls well short of the standards we have consistently laid out,” Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham said in a statement Sunday.
“This deal highlights how dysfunctional Washington has become, and we will continue to oppose it as insufficient to the task at hand,” Needham noted.
And the field will continue to be treacherous. An all-out fight over spending levels for the next fiscal year lies in wait after the debt fight, and the contours of the debt deal virtually guarantee fiscal issues will be front and center through the remainder of the 112th Congress.
“His leadership of the Republicans in the House and being Speaker is clearly at stake here, if he can’t bring his people along,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren late last week, when Boehner was struggling to round up GOP votes.
“I think Boehner has an unstable Conference, and that makes it difficult for legislation,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Sunday.
But the grumbling from the right isn’t universal, demonstrating that the Speaker still has a power base from which to operate. Both members of the GOP freshman class and established voices of the right in Congress say Boehner still commands respect, even if they won’t always vote with him.
“I would say it’s the exact opposite. Every single person respects him. Every single person,” freshman Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said Sunday.
Even Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has long been a thorn in the side of leadership, dismissed the idea that Boehner’s handling of the talks has weakened his hand internally.
“Everybody gets wounded and scarred up in these skirmishes … [But] I think he’s got a solid core of loyalty in the Conference,” King said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.