Fiscal cliff talks highlight warring factions of GOP
looming over who chairs the party.
House Speaker John Boehner, a 22-year Washington veteran whose instincts for compromise had been thwarted by the rise of the conservatives, is offering deals and punishing those who defy him. The conservatives are swinging back hard, publicly questioning Boehner’s leadership and offering reminders that they still have considerable financial and political muscle.
Four Republicans perceived as disloyal to Boehner have been kicked off committees, and conservatives are angry.
“When one comes here and votes his conscience, and it’s not antithetical to the Republican platform, why should he suffer for it?” asked Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona. “The Republican cause, and the cause of freedom, is diminished.”
The rupture comes as the party begins charting a highly uncertain future.
Republicans were jolted on Election Day by losses few anticipated. Not only did President Barack Obama decisively win a new term, but the party lost seats in the Senate and the House.
The party leadership is far from secure. Former Rep. J.C. Watts, once the House’s highest-ranking African-American Republican, is being mentioned by some insiders as a possible challenger to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus when Priebus seeks another term next month.
Pragmatists have been slowly moving in a more conciliatory direction, with Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, long regarded as a no-tax-increase hardliner, the latest to suggest he could accept some higher rates in order to reach a budget deal with Obama, who won re-election on a pledge to raise taxes on the wealthy.
At the same time, Boehner has defied the hardcore conservatives. Despite their opposition to any new revenue, he and his leadership team Monday offered a deficit reduction package that included $800 billion derived from closing tax loopholes, limiting deductions and slowing offsetting changes in tax brackets. They booted the four Republicans off committees, and Boehner allies have been warning colleagues privately that more such punishment could be forthcoming.
Two of the booted lawmakers spoke out at a Heritage Foundation forum this week. Rep. Justin Amish of Michigan said Boehner’s move was “a slap in the face to all young people who are thinking of becoming Republican.”