On Jan. 6, 2015, the House of Representatives re-elected John Boehner (R‑OH) as Speaker. However, 25 of the House’s most conservative Republicans, supported by outside groups like FreedomWorks and other Tea Party organizations, voted against Speaker Boehner in one of the biggest rebellions in the House’s recent history. Those hard-line conservatives, like Louie Gohmert (R‑TX) and Thomas Massie (R‑KY), opposed the Speaker because they thought he had “surrendered” to President Obama and the progressives. Hard-liners see Speaker Boehner’s support of the CRomnibus spending measures as an example of surrender. Passed in December, the $1.1 trillion spending bill will keep the government running through September of this year. Those on the far right of the GOP argue that this is a surrender because it contained “riders,” and did not use the power of the purse to shut down President Obama’s executive action, granting amnesty to a large number of illegal immigrants.
The hard-liners are wrong about the CRomnibus. Overall, the bill was a Republican victory, not a surrender. The bill had a number of measures that conservatives ought to support. For instance, it delayed energy efficiency standards set to be imposed on light bulbs soon, cut the IRS’s budget, put the brakes on Michelle Obama’s school lunch program, and eliminated certain provisions from the Dodd-Frank Act which put unnecessary regulations on banks. Not only that, but the government is being funded until September; Republicans and Democrats will not face the prospect of a government shutdown in the critical early stages of the new Congress.
Also, just because the GOP did not push through measures counteracting President Obama’s unconstitutional executive actions does not mean the party will not take action against it in the new Congress — in fact, the House recently passed a bill which repeals the president’s actions in full. What hard-liners do not understand about the CRomnibus is that Republicans need to plan battles wisely. There is a time to win debate on issues like the president’s unconstitutional acts, or cutting wasteful spending, but that place was not in the last Congress, when the GOP did not have a Senate majority with which to partner.
The new Senate majority makes it easier for the House to pass conservative reforms and easier to bring the fight to President Obama and his supporters. That is exactly what Boehner has been doing. Under his leadership, the House has passed legislation which would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to finish construction, adopted new transparency rules drafted by Congressman Justin Amash (R‑MI), voted in favor of eliminating harmful regulations, and passed numerous pro-veteran bills. Speaker Boehner has not been in retreat during this Congress — he is in full-on attack mode. Those conservatives who voted for him earlier this month have been vindicated.
The fight between the hard-liners and the GOP establishment leadership is the same fight that has been tearing apart the Republican Party since the Tea Party emerged during the 2010 elections. The far right says that the more moderate elements of the party are “RINOs” or “fake conservatives,” and that they are little better than the Democratic Party.
I find that attitude naïve. Moderate Republicans have the same goals as the Tea Partiers. Moderates want to reduce government and restore it to its constitutional limits. The only difference is that moderate Republicans recognize that we live in a republic, not a monarchy. Just because we will something does not mean it ought to come about. Tea Partiers and their absolutist approach to politics, cannot win in the long run.
Politics is the art of the possible. Tea Partiers need to recognize that we cannot win simply by being right, we also have to be popular with the electorate that matters the most — center-of-the-road independents. Betraying principles is never right, but delaying fights for another day where victory is more foreseeable is not necessarily wrong. Boehner has been a fine leader, and his continued leadership will enable Republicans to bring their conservative message to Congress.