The unthinkable happened in Washington, DC Thursday night: House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B, his ploy to entice Republican congressmen and women to endorse an alternative plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, blew up in his face.
The Speaker, who was close to tears and recited the Serenity Prayer, had to withdraw Plan B without a vote as his support melted away. Boehner had reportedly been begging his caucus members to stick with him, but in the end it was like herding cats. The humiliated Speaker had to admit defeat and Republicans prepared to head home for Christmas, with the fiscal cliff rapidly approaching.
Plan B was similar to ideas floated by Republican senators—most prominently Bob Corker of Tennessee. Republicans would vote to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone except households earning $1 million a year, taking the tax issue off the table. Then they would supposedly have the advantage in negotiations with Democrats as the debt limit loomed early next year.
But that would involve some compromise, heaven forfend. Boehner’s caucus, which lifted him to power in 2010, is dominated by true believers who think that giving an inch would mean the end of the Republic.
Loony Louie Gohmert is one of them. Another was on “Morning Joe” Friday—Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), the freshman Tea Party sympathizer who was bounced from a committee post by Speaker Boehner.
In response to a question, Huelskamp said no one—no one—should pay higher taxes. And he wouldn’t agree to any compromise whatsoever. My way or the highway again, just like in the summer of 2011 when we almost defaulted on our debt.
Meanwhile, conservative interest groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth were twisting arms heavily to get Republicans to vote against Boehner’s Plan B.
And in a way, they’re doing the politically expedient thing to do—most of them represent safe Republican congressional districts, conveniently redistricted by Republican state legislatures elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
These congressmen and women don’t have to worry about the general election, but they will be “primaried” if they break with orthodoxy in the name of compromise. The Club for Growth and others will finance primary opponents in an effort to defeat them and teach other would-be dissidents a lesson.
So, once again the Tea Party has thrown the political system into chaos. I’ve said before that they have done a big service by forcing the debt and spending issue front and center. But their constituents are so angry and self-righteous the representatives have an incentive not to compromise and make the system work.
That’s the real problem—extreme Republican voters who vote heavily in primaries and exert a disproportionate influence on the party. They’re the reason Mitt Romney had to adopt fringe positions that helped him win the nomination but destroyed his chances in the general election. They’re the reason a minority has been able to obstruct any action to solve this fiscal problem.
Ultimately we may get a deal—but it will be smaller, messier and worse than it could have been. And I fear that as long as too many Republican voters remain so extreme and unyielding, this is what politics is going to look like for the next few years.