Since 2011, the new breed of House Republicans sent to Washington to shatter the status quo has made life hell for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who faces the thankless task of bridging divides between conservatives and Democrats.
The all-or-nothing philosophy of these lawmakers, who egged on by a well-funded conservative movement, only grew stronger after the GOP’s defeat in the 2012 elections. This year alone, the rowdy, rebellious conservatives have repeatedly undercut Boehner on must-pass bills and unwittingly helped Democrats.
Here are the top five instances where conservatives have delivered humiliating defeats to Boehner since the November elections.
1) Tanking Boehner’s “Plan B” For The Fiscal Cliff
While President Obama was insisting that taxes be permitted to rise on incomes above $250,000, Boehner came up with a plan in December to strengthen the GOP’s negotiating hand and stave off tax increases for a larger fraction of Americans: pass a bill through the House raising the threshold to $1 million and pressure Obama to make concessions.
But conservatives killed it, refusing to vote to permit any tax hikes, come what may. As a result, Boehner was left empty-handed and surrendered the initiative to the Senate, which settled on letting taxes rise for incomes above $400,000. The House was forced to swallow it in the early hours of 2013.
“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said in the run-up to the cliff. “Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.
2) Creating A Debacle For The GOP On Sandy Aid
House Republicans, for one reason or another, didn’t like the $50.5 billion aid package passed by the Senate for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Immediately after the fiscal cliff vote, facing conservative opposition and fatigue over the tax battle, Boehner unexpectedly canceled the vote in the waning hours of the last Congress and dismissed his members.
The move infuriated Republicans like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York Reps. Peter King and Michael Grimm, who went on TV to excoriate Boehner and the conservatives who scuttled the bill. It was a huge public relations debacle for the GOP. Boehner eventually picked up the pieces and passed the aid package — with mostly Democratic support.
“Our people were played last night as a pawn,” Christie fumed, blaming the “toxic internal politics” of the House GOP. “Last night, my party was responsible for this.”
3) Scuttling A Symbolic Vote To Help Sick People
In the spring, House leaders moved to undercut attacks against them for having a callous attitude toward sick people. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) devised a bill to transfer money from one piece of Obamacare to a temporary, underfunded high-risk pool to cover people with preexisting conditions for the remainder of 2013.
Because it wiped out the law’s prevention and wellness fund, the bill stood no chance of passing the Senate — the purpose was to boost the GOP’s credibility among the less fortunate, and create a line of attack against Democrats. But conservatives scuttled it anyway, demanding nothing less than total repeal of Obamacare.
“Subsidizing health care is not what Republicans should be about,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)
4) Killing The Farm Bill
No less routine a matter than passing a farm bill fell prey to conservative intransigence this summer. Right-leaning advocacy groups went to war against the GOP’s bill because it didn’t make deep enough cuts to food and nutrition programs for poor people, among other things. Democrats provided little help as they wanted fewer cuts.
The legislation failed 195-234 — an embarrassing defeat for Boehner and his leadership team. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) mocked the GOP’s “amateur hour” as the conservative Club For Growth taunted Republican leaders by celebrating the death of the bill.
“I’ll see you on the 6 o’clock news,” one Republican lawmaker could be heard saying on the House floor as the legislation crashed.
5) Threatening Economic Chaos Over Unachievable Goals
The desire to thwart Obamacare ahead of its upcoming rollout has so thoroughly consumed conservatives that they’ve successfully goaded Republican leaders into embracing their quixotic push to risk a government shutdown come Oct. 1 if Obamacare isn’t defund. Despite his memories of the 1990s and desire to avoid a shutdown confrontation, Boehner officially gave in to their demands Wednesday.
The proposal faces categorical opposition from Senate Democrats and a White House veto threat. And yet, just two weeks away from a shutdown, conservatives are risking their ability to jam Democrats with lower spending levels by angling to send the Senate a bill it is guaranteed to reject. History suggests that a government shutdown, were it to occur, will be blamed on Republicans, and House leaders are now on the hook for such an outcome.
“I don’t think shutting down the government is going to be productive,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told CNN on Wednesday. “I don’t think that is a strategy that is good for America.”
That’s not all: conservative opposition to Obamacare has also motivated House GOP leaders to link a debt limit increase with a one-year delay of the health care reform law, again provoking a confrontation that no less a Republican ally than the Chamber of Commerce is urging them to avoid.