Boehner's Outburst Fuels GOP Civil War

With his rant against conservative advocacy groups for their opposition to the budget deal, John Boehner has burnished his credentials as the worst speaker of the House -- and Republican leader -- in the memory of living men.

His party in the throes of a bitter conflict between establishment Republicans and right-wing tea partiers, the speaker flew off the handle and bitterly criticized groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks for threatening GOP lawmakers who vote for the Murray-Ryan budget pact.

“They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous!” Boehner told reporters after a meeting of the GOP caucus. "Listen, if you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement," Boehner added.

One might ask how long Boehner has been in Washington if  he isn't aware that this is exactly what special interests groups do -- they use anyone and anything to advance their goals. What does he expect from groups that rely on donations for survival? One might also inquire from which planet Mr. Boehner has alighted if he can say with a straight face: "[I]f you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement." They certainly have an entirely different idea of mathematics on Boehner's home world if he thinks that adding $63 billion in total discretionary spending in the next two years represents support for "deficit reduction."

This is how Democrats spin raising federal spending, not Republicans.

Boehner went even further in his criticism, accusing some conservative groups of opposing the deal before it was even completed:

“You mean the groups who came out and opposed this before they even saw it,” Boehner asked, interrupting a reporter who started to ask about the criticism from conservative groups.

As expected, the conservative groups targeted in Boehner's rant struck back -- hard.

Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks:

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

Once again Republicans, led by John Boehner, are working with Democrats to increase spending yet again on the taxpayers’ tab while promising "savings" down the road. We know how this movie ends. How can leadership credibly promise spending cuts later, after agreeing to a plan that rolls back the sequester savings promised two debt increases ago? There’s a predictable pattern here.

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola:

We stand with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, members of the Republican Study Committee and every other fiscal conservative who opposes the Ryan-Murray deal.  After carefully reviewing the budget deal, on which we never commented until it was complete, we determined that it would increase the size of government. We support pro-growth proposals when they are considered by Congress. In our evaluation, this isn’t one of those.

No doubt the speaker is frustrated with the constant naysaying from outside groups and tea party types in Congress. But does a good leader come out and publicly chastise those in opposition or does he seek to calm the situation and work to unify the party? At the very least, Boehner should have kept his mouth shut rather than pour gasoline on a fire already raging out of control in the grassroots.

The speaker has made himself a toxic asset. By setting off well-funded, ideologically rigid groups like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, even members inclined to vote with him on the budget deal might think twice if it means being challenged in a primary -- the result of payback for Boehners' ill-tempered criticism.

As for the deal itself, Michael Needham of Heritage Action points up its shortcomings in a USA Today op-ed and concludes with this:

What the deal really demonstrates, however, is the continued power of the third party in Washington — appropriators. These members, some Democrat and others Republican, forced the Party of Reagan to throw away spending cuts that could have been used as leverage for serious entitlement reforms or simply kept as savings for the hard-working American taxpayer.

Some are heralding the agreement as an indication politicians can put aside their petty differences and achieve something. In the coming days, members of Congress will have to explain to their constituents what exactly they achieved by increasing spending, increasing fees and offering up another round of promises waiting to be broken. That will be a tough sell back home.

Even pragmatists are going to have to swallow hard to vote for this deal. While some of the sequester is kept intact, as Needham points out, there isn't much left to bargain with when the debt ceiling vote comes up early next year and negotiations over entitlement reform get underway. In exchange for an up-front increase in defense spending, conservatives are being asked once again to trust that Congress -- no matter who runs it -- will follow through with deficit reduction in the out-years of the budget. In case you haven't been paying attention, they have yet to do so. Why should they? There is no mechanism in place to force the issue. That was the sole purpose of the sequester and now that club has been taken out of the hands of deficit hawks.

The sequester didn't bite very hard the first year it was in effect -- at least it didn't bite too many people who would make a big stink about it. But this year, the military especially would have felt the sting and the across-the-board nature of the cuts would have meant actual layoffs and furloughs at many agencies and departments. Since Democrats were never going to agree to sensible budget cuts, seeing the draconian nature of the sequester as their ally, an accommodation was made so that a deal could be reached.

It could have been better. It should have been better. But there are probably going to be enough Republicans who see the strategic necessity of taking a budget war off the table so that the focus remains on the continuing failure of Obamacare. That's the GOP's path to glory in 2014 and, like it or not, party leaders have made a tactical retreat on deficit reduction so that the Obamacare meltdown remains the number one issue facing the American people.

The right wing of the GOP is going to oppose this deal -- they may even scuttle it thanks to Boehner's disastrous leadership. It certainly wouldn't be the worst thing for that to occur, but another government shutdown wouldn't aid Republicans in their quest to hold the House and take the Senate in 2014.