When John Boehner briefly lashed out Wednesday at conservative groups that had been agitating against the bipartisan budget bill, it turns out he had more to say. Much, much more.
On Thursday, reporters asked the Republican House Speaker to elaborate on his comments the day before, when he called conservative opposition to the budget “ridiculous” and accused certain right-wing groups of “using the American people."
Boy, did he.
“I thought it was my job and my obligation to stand up for conservatives here in the Congress who want more deficit reduction, stand up for the work that Chairman [Paul] Ryan did,” Boehner said. “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.”
Earlier this week, lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan budget blueprint that would set funding levels for the next two years. (The House plans to vote on it Thursday night.) The bill would replace parts of sequestration, but effectively increase federal spending by $63 billion. By funding the government into 2015, it would help avoid future fights over government shutdowns that have brought Congress to a standstill during the past few years of Obama’s presidency.
Conservative groups, such as Heritage Action for America, The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and others, immediately opposed the plan when it was released — some, in fact, did so before the final details were confirmed by the authors.
The public display of frustration from Boehner over the tea party groups’ behavior was long in the making, and probably will have broader implications than merely a budget deal. In both the House and Senate, outside groups are ramping up pressure on incumbents by launching and funding challenger campaigns against them in next year’s midterm elections. Republicans in both chambers are forced to fend off both tea party challengers and Democrats, a phenomenon that has rankled the party establishment and sparked debates about what defines a “true conservative.”
Boehner specifically blamed these groups for dragging Republican lawmakers into a dubious plan to defund the federal health care law that led to a disastrous government shutdown last fall. Boehner said he was outraged when one group that engineered the failed plot admitted that they never thought it would work in the first place.
“They pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and to shut down the government. Most of you know, my members know, that wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people that — one of these groups stood up and said, 'Well, we never really thought it would work,'” he recapped, before shouting, “Are you kidding me?!”
A spokesman for Heritage Action defended the organization’s opposition to the budget plan in an interview with Yahoo News, and predicted trouble for Republicans if they continue to alienate conservative groups.
“I’m certainly surprised that they’ve chosen this fight to lash out against conservative groups. This is a deal that increases spending by $63 billion over the next two years. This is not a conservative deal,” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action. “Members are going to have a difficult time when they go back home explaining all this to their constituents. I’m sure there are a lot of members who are in uncomfortable positions and would rather see outside groups remain silent about this, but that’s irresponsible. … Signaling to conservatives that they're not part of the GOP dynamic — I don’t see how that works out well, long-term or short-term.”
During his press conference Thursday, Boehner reiterated how groups such as Heritage Action voiced opposition before the details emerged, and said they stepped “over the line.”
“There just comes to a point when some people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you're criticizing, it undermines your credibility,” he said. “And with that, let me say to all of you, have a merry Christmas.”