In this season of hope, peace and understanding, it’s fitting that moderate Republicans in the U.S. House joined forces with Democrats this past Thursday to approve a two-year budget outline by 332-94. The 94 votes in opposition make up a large part of the Tea Party conservatives that have undermined mainstream Republican and Democratic agendas for the past four years.
The vote reduces the chance of another government shutdown and may, temporarily at least, end the cycle of budgeting under the threat of financial crisis. On the same day, the Republican-led House, which has been paralyzed by inter-party fighting for much of the past two years, also passed legislation approving funding for the Pentagon and extended the farm bill by another month. For them, that’s major progress.
In refuting the Republican ultra-conservatives — who have been funded and championed by lobbying groups such as Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks — House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, finally said enough is enough. He criticized the far-right extremists for pushing the party into political positions that undermined its credibility and cost them public support. Specifically, Boehner criticized those interests for forcing the government shutdown (which has been estimated to cost the government more than $24 billion for the 16-day shutdown) and driving public satisfaction of the Republican Party to an all-time low.
“Frankly, I think they’re misleading their followers,” Boehner told reporters at last week’s briefing. “I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be. And frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility.”
The Speaker’s thrust was at the heart of the influence of far-right advocacy groups and think tanks that have become puritanical partisans that allow no flexibility among legislators in a political system that requires compromise to govern. Boehner admitted in subsequent interviews that he had been hesitant to criticize the groups in the past, but he felt compelled to speak out now because their political brinkmanship has been a disaster to the party’s image and political future.
It is, however, a fight that’s far from over. Dan Holler, a spokesman for the Heritage Action — a political action group financed largely by the Koch brothers of Wichita, Kansas, and who are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry — warned Boehner that the Republican majority would be threatened if conservative voters “are not going to turn out in November 2014.” Holler also accused mainstream Republican leaders of “using” conservatives to get elected and them abandoning them to vote for moderate positions.
Boehner’s bet, however, is that the larger majority of Republicans are tired of the extremist rhetoric that whips voters into a frenzy, only to have those supporters realize later they have been duped by half-truths and lies.
Moderates around the nation surely let out a sign of relief that Boehner has finally confronted these right-wing groups, now considers them more a burden than an asset, and has signaled a willingness to govern more responsibly. That, at least, offers a ray of hope for a better political year to come.
Angelo S. Lynn