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It didn't take long for the era of good feelings to end on Capitol Hill. But for Speaker John Boehner and his GOP lieutenants, taking the government to the brink is apparently the only way to keep the Republican Conference together.
For weeks, the Ohio lawmaker and his leadership team had preached a return to bipartisan legislating, publicly decrying "my way or the highway" demands made by President Barack Obama. Privately, they counseled their Members that ugly fights over spending, the budget and the debt limit had crippled the GOP's public standing and that with a series of high-profile spending and debt votes over the next six months, repeated clashes could hurt their chances in next year's elections.
And yet, on Friday morning Boehner once again found himself standing before reporters, defending his role in one more game of political brinkmanship with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
This time, the political staring contest was over a continuing resolution that includes billions in disaster funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"With FEMA expected to run out of disaster funding as soon as Monday, the only path to getting assistance into the hands of American families immediately is for the Senate to approve the House bill," Boehner said.
That stark difference in message is a result of the reality that Boehner's Conference in many ways prefers bloody fights over compromise, even if it ends up in the same place at the end of the day, lawmakers and leadership aides said.
Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) had all hoped voter unhappiness with the standoff over the debt deal would mean lawmakers would return to Washington, D.C., after the August break willing to work together and avoid dragged-out fights.
But many Members, particularly a core group of 50 or so conservatives, apparently did not get that message, and while the trio stressed the need to focus on jobs and the economy rather than to fight, one aide acknowledged the GOP "didn't have the 'Come to Jesus' kind of family meeting we needed."
Indeed, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — a conservative thorn in leadership's side — helped spearhead an effort to force just such a confrontation, sending a letter to leadership signed by 52 conservatives demanding deeper cuts than Republican leaders had already agreed to for the continuing resolution.
With Republicans not all on board with Boehner's call for a less partisan tone — and Democrats, smelling blood, bolting from the CR deal — Boehner took the unusual step early last week of threatening Members that crossing leadership would result in punitive actions.