Boehner plans to sideline House conservatives in budget battle

Speaker John Boehner has made plans to bypass House conservatives and ram through two items opposed by the right. He will try and pass a budget deal, using a parliamentary manuever to speed passage. He is also planning a vote on the so-called Medicare "doc fix" he negotiated with Nancy Pelosi last week.


If they’re able to clear the two measures, a battered leadership will go into the Easter recess with some pep in its step, as it tries to extend highway funding, begin work on annual appropriations bills and raise the debt ceiling. Not to mention, passing a budget will give Congress the ability to start a budget negotiation process with the Senate.

Whipsawed over the past several years by its rank-and-file, especially the most hard-core conservatives, GOP leaders appear determined to take charge. Boehner and McCarthy have divvied up responsibility for the two major pieces of legislation. Boehner is working to ensure passage of the so-called “doc-fix” package, while McCarthy is overseeing work on the budget resolution, said GOP leadership aides. The leadership even was prepared to take control of the budget, if new Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) resisted changes to defense spending.

Of course, this can all blow up in Boehner’s face, as carefully laid plans frequently have before. Outside conservative groups including Heritage Action are already agitating against the Medicare reimbursement deal, claiming it will increase the deficit by $400 billion over the next two decades, far more than Boehner is asserting.

And fiscal conservatives are fuming about busting spending caps put into law four years ago to preclude these kinds of maneuvers. Boehner, though, needs to placate dozens of defense hawks, who have threatened to oppose the budget resolution unless the Pentagon gets billions of dollars more than President Barack Obama has sought. Deficit hardliners want to cut the budget somewhere else to offset any defense bump.

“It’s a $3.8 trillion budget,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, a California conservative who serves on the Budget Committee?. “We ought to be able to find $20 billion to cut somewhere.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), a vocal critic of Boehner, joked about the Ohio Republican’s “joint speakership” with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), pointing to the speaker’s negotiations with the minority leader to resolve the doctor reimbursement issue and, earlier this month, to break the impasse over Department of Homeland Security funding.

Huelskamp isn't far off the mark. It's one thing to work with the Democrats to pass legislation. It's quite another to bypass a sizable segment of your own caucus and pass something over their objections while conspiring with Democrats to do so. The old Hastert Rule that prevented the speaker from bringing legislation to the floor without at least 50% support in the caucus is long gone, and Boehner appears to be perfectly content to partner with Democrats to sideline the right in the House.

This is a slash and burn strategy that might irrevocably split the party. And it needlessly antagonizes conservatives that Boehner will almost certainly need later to enact much of the GOP agenda. There will be no deals with Pelosi about repealing Obamacare or overturning EPA carbon regs. The speaker will regret these moves sooner rather than later.

If you experience technical problems, please write to