Friday, April 15, 2011

Bipartisanship, courtesy of the Tea Party

Yesterday, Congress finally passed the legislation that resulted from the eleventh-hour deal cut between House, Senate, and White House to keep the federal government up and running through the end of the fiscal year.

The big news about the actual vote is that it was bipartisan.  Speaker of the House Boehner was not able to persuade enough Republicans to vote in favor of the bill to pass it without Democratic help.  Fifty-nine House Republicans (nearly all of whom identify themselves with the Tea Party) bucked their leadership to vote against the deal.

Not to go ringin' my own bell, but back in January, I predicted that this day would come.  Boehner was faced with a tough decision:  hold the line with the ideologues in his party and kill the deal he had cut with Harry Reid and President Obama, or reach across the aisle to Democrats to get the votes he needed and risk rebellion in his own caucus.

He chose the latter, and I must say, I admire him for it.  Lord knows poor old John must have spent a good long while thinking it over.  He's got Eric Cantor (who is not above demagoguery if it wins him favor with the Tea Party) breathing down his neck for the speaker's gavel.  He's got his nemesis, Nancy Pelosi, ready and capable of exploiting Republican divisions.  Talk about swimming with sharks!

But in the end, Boehner reached for the phone and told the Capitol Hill operator:  "Put me through to Steny Hoyer's office."  Hoyer, the House Minority Leader, did some whipping of his own and got 81 Democrats to save Boehner's bacon.

Now, of course, Congress moves on to the much bigger battle of the competing federal budgets offered by President Obama and Republican Representative Paul Ryan.  But as that battle is joined, an important (and for Boehner, a dangerous) precedent now exists:  bipartisan cooperation.

The very idea that Boehner and allied factions within the Republican caucus would cut a deal (any deal) with Democrats is anathema to the Tea Party.  Indeed, there are already rumblings of primary challenges to "aye"-voting Republicans.

Boehner needs the Tea Party.  But, more than that, he needs to prove that he can govern.  It doesn't seem to me that he has ever bought in to the crazy talk that gets aired in Tea Party circles.  I wonder if, in the end, that will sink him.

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