The recent passage of a clean debt ceiling bill by both the House and Senate signaled a turning point within the Republican party. At least for the time being, the GOP’s congressional leadership (Boehner in the House; McConnell in the Senate) have finally decided not to roll over and acquiesce to their Tea Party members’ obstruction.
Here’s the back-story: Weeks before the country would have defaulted on its already accumulated spending, Republicans plotted over how to use that pending event to leverage concessions from President Obama in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. But, after a great deal of back and forth, the decision was made to seek no quid por quo. This conclusion was likely driven by senior leadership’s recognition of just how badly the party was damaged the last time they tried to employ such a tactic. A repeat simply could not be tolerated with midterm elections just months away. But none of this political calculating mattered to congressional Tea Party members. They made it clear that they would use every available means to block the passage of any bill brought forward with no strings attached.
Faced with this intransigence, both the House Speaker and the Senate’s Minority leader had to make a choice; i.e. surrender to their Tea Party colleagues and face yet further public tarnishing of the GOP brand, or bring a clean bill up for a vote and get it passed with a majority comprised mostly of Democrats who would be joined by a handful of Republicans. Boehner and McConnell each opted for the latter.
The vote in both chambers played out pretty much in line with that scenario. In the House, 193 out of 195 Democrats were joined by just 28 Republicans out of 240 thus generating a bare majority of 221. This allowed the bill to move on to the Senate where the final vote was preceded by high drama in the form of a threatened filibuster by Ted Cruz (R-TX). What happened next is extraordinary for what it says about where Senate Republicans stand vis a vis the junior senator from Texas and his Tea Party comrades-in-arms.
In a procedural vote, 12 Republicans joined with all 55 Democrats to kill Cruz’ filibuster before it even started. In gangland parlance, Cruz got “knee-capped” or perhaps more aptly, had his voice box removed, a telling sign of the low level of tolerance that the dozen Republicans have developed for their colleague’s behavior. With a possible filibuster off the table, the final vote on a clean bill commenced with the same majority of all 55 Democrats carrying it through to passage.
What the GOP’s congressional leadership did, at least in this instance, was to send a message to their Tea Party members; i.e. we will not allow you to destroy our party with your obstruction, not this time and certainly not before an election. By way of rebuttal the Tea Party-types and their supporters have now mounted very bitter, public campaigns to remove both the Speaker and Senate Minority leader from their positions. It’s deny us what we want and we will “get” you!!!
Clearly, Hell hath no fury like a Tea Party scorned.