How Outside Conservative Groups Pushed John Boehner Over The Edge

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"How Outside Conservative Groups Pushed John Boehner Over The Edge"

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CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

After several right-wing outside groups slammed the bipartisan budget deal negotiated by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) — in some cases before the deal was even announced — Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) hit his breaking point. “When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, you’ve lost your credibility,” he told reporters Thursday, noting that it “comes to a point where some people step over a line.” But Boehner’s frustration has no doubt been building up over this three years as Speaker, as groups like Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) have stymied his attempts to pass even conservative-friendly legislation.

In 2011, Boehner and President Obama were on the verge of reaching a “grand bargain” on taxes, spending, and deficit reduction. The talks fell through, in part because freshmen Republicans and the conservative groups that backed them were unwilling to accept new revenue.

Here are some of the bipartisan and GOP measures the groups have worked to block over the past three years:

The 2011 Budget Control Act.

Facing a possible default on the national debt, Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed on a bill to force automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, unless a “super committee” could find sufficient savings cut hundreds of billions of dollars from federal spending over the next ten years. Though Boehner had made in clear in 2010 that when Washington hit its debt limit, Congress would “have to deal with it as adults,” groups on the right opposed increasing the ceiling. Heritage Action denounced the agreement, arguing that “Speaker Boehner’s most recent proposal to raise the debt limit is regrettably insufficient for our times.” With FreedomWorks and SCF also opposed, 66 House Republicans voted against the bill.

The 2012 highway bill.

With the Highway Trust Fund set to run out of money, the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-control Senate sent an extension bill to conference committee. FreedomWorks announced its opposition to the bipartisan compromise and said it would score it as a key vote, criticizing it for making “few reforms to the federal government’s rampant spending on transportation.” Heritage Action also strongly opposed the extension and scored it as a vote “to maintain unsustainable levels of funding when we are nearly $16 trillion in debt.” 52 House Republicans voted no.

The New Year’s Eve 2012 Fiscal Cliff deal.

As 2012 ended, Congress grappled with a standoff over the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the beginning of drastic sequestration cuts. After Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached a deal to extend some of the tax cuts, let others expire, and delay the cuts, the groups blasted the deal as “higher taxes.” FreedomWorks announced it would count a vote for the bill against legislators, while Heritage Action slammed it before it was even announced as a “K Street gravy train,” laden with giveaways to special interest groups. The deal passed with Boehner’s support, but the majority of Republicans voting against.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June by an overwhelming 68-32 super-majority. The bill had the strong opposition of SCF and Heritage Action, who attacked it as “amnesty.” While Boehner initially agreed that it was “time for Congress to act,” GOP opposition has delayed any House action until at least 2014.

Efforts to avert the October 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare.

The effort to force a government shutdown over defunding Obamacare was largely driven by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Even though Boehner warned that it was a bad strategy, SCF and the other groups pressured Republican members to oppose any bill to fund the government without killing the Affordable Care Act. As the government shutdown dragged on, Boehner was forced to pull bills from the floor as members of his caucus refused to go against the groups’ wishes. At one point, he reportedly recited the Serenity Prayer at a closed-door caucus meeting at which he announced his “Plan B” was being scrapped for lack of Republican support. Though FreedomWorks believed the standoff a “brilliant strategy,” Congress eventually reopened government without any repeal. A furious Heritage Action said the compromise “will do nothing to stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root — radically changing the nature of American health care.”

The 2013 Farm Bill.

On October 1, Congress allowed the historically bipartisan Farm Bill to expire. Attempts to revive the law, which funds numerous programs vital to the nation’s food supply, have been ongoing. Citing “myriad flaws with both the House and Senate” farm bill proposals, Heritage Action suggested there were “a trillion reasons not to pass the Farm Bill.” FreedomWorks opposed even the more conservative House proposal as “80% food stamps and 100% fiscally irresponsible.” Boehner backed the House bill, but 62 Republicans joined with 172 Democrats to defeat it.

Though Paul Ryan has enjoyed a close relationship with Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks in the past, these groups slammed the Ryan-Murray compromise as a “surender.” and promised to hold it against anyone who votes for his bill. Heritage Action condemned the bill as “a step backwards.” The 2012 Vice Presidential nominee dismissed the attacks from the right as a “strange new normal.”

FreedomWorks accused Boehner Wednesday of “smearing fiscally conservative groups.” “Speaker Boehner’s real problem here isn’t with conservative groups like FreedomWorks,” they explained, but “with millions of individual Americans who vote Republican because they were told the GOP was the party of small government and fiscal responsibility.”

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