Insurrection and rebellion are never pretty affairs, but when conducted within one political party, they can cause as much collateral damage as in a bloody revolution. The past two week’s pandemonium apparent in Congress between Republicans conceals a rift between tea party Republicans in the House, Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Republicans. Although the conflict over extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefit extensions was resolved after the House agreed to the two month extension worked out in the Senate, there are still hard feelings that do not portend good things for Republicans or the American people.
One freshman tea party representative, Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was furious that Republicans caved on the payroll tax discussion and blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Gowdy appeared on Fox News and deflected blame from Speaker John Boehner and said of McConnell, “I don’t think there’s a revolt with respect to Speaker Boehner. I think the license tag of the truck that just ran over us has Kentucky license tags. For the life of me, I cannot understand when the Senate is going to find something they care enough about to stand on policy and principle.” Apparently, the Senate deal tying the payroll tax cut extension with unrelated issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline, federal pay freezes and ridiculous requirements for low-income tax filers was not sufficient for extremists in the House. Led by freshman Republicans in the House, the thoughts were that the Senate should have negotiated for a full-year extension. However, the Senate and the House knew about President Obama’s desire to extend the cuts for a year over two months ago and rejected the extension because of surtax on millionaires and billionaires.
Although Gowdy claims there is not a revolt against Boehner’s leadership, there are Republicans who say they are frustrated with the perceived tension between Eric Cantor and Boehner. If there is a perception of tension among the GOP, there is probably real ideological differences between the top Republicans in the House. In fact, Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) was paraphrased as saying the Republican leadership should be “standing shoulder to shoulder and show unity at the leadership table.” Cole continued saying, “I’ll be with you from the first vote to the last one — the only thing I’m asking in return is that you guys be unified. I don’t want to read stories that suggest three of the leaders are on one side and the Speaker’s on the other … the leadership table is to resolve disputes, and if you guys can’t come to a unified decision there, we’ll never be a unified conference.”
His remarks followed last Saturday’s conference call where Republican lawmakers attacked the Senate and Mitch McConnell for passing the payroll tax cut bill and then leaving town. There were obvious differences between Boehner and his people and Cantor’s allies who opposed the Senate deal. Boehner and Cantor’s people dispute that there is a rift between the two men, but the report of the dispute is causing more problems for the already fractious GOP. It is unclear what the tea party caucus and Cantor expected the Senate Republicans to hold out for in negotiations, but it apparently is too extreme for Boehner who has lost control of the House Republicans; especially the extremist tea party caucus.
Boehner is accused of attempting to “make everyone happy” and that he could have avoided the House controversy if he was more heavy handed. Cantor is reported to have advocated for voting down the Senate bill and argued that it would send a message that the House “won’t accept a take-it-or-leave-it approach to governing.” Cantor’s method would only have resulted in ending the middle class’s tax cut that would affect 160 million Americans and gives the public a clue to what tea party Republicans really wanted all along. Sources close to Speaker Boehner said if he did not lead on the payroll tax cut extension, some Republicans would have prevailed because they wanted to let the middle class tax cuts and unemployment benefits expire.
It is nearly impossible to comprehend what the tea party Republicans were thinking about letting the tax cuts and unemployment benefits expire, but the only certainty is they were not looking out for the American people. This is not to impute that Boehner and main-stream Republicans care about working Americans, but they at least understood that allowing the cuts to expire was politically damaging. The insurrection among Republicans indicates that teabaggers do not appreciate that the public is not enamored with them and poor approval ratings should have tempered their extremist position or they would not have been so bold in their willingness to punish working families. What is evident is that Republican’s have aligned with ideologues who are willing to commit political suicide instead of giving the middle class a tax cut. The tea party and Republican freshman in the House came out of the payroll tax cut debacle looking like the biggest losers for not claiming victory at the Senate’s inclusion of the Keystone XL pipeline in the Senate bill and their near-revolt has damaged Republicans as a party.
The public will not forget how Republicans nearly cost them their payroll tax cut by holding out for more unrelated concessions than they secured. This is not to say John Boehner cares about the American people, because he does not. What Boehner cares about is the wealthy and the false perception that Republicans are protecting the wealthy to benefit the American people. Eric Cantor and House tea party Republicans do not care about the people either, and were willing to let the cuts expire to prove a point that they are not to be trifled with where protecting the wealthy is concerned regardless of the political consequences. It is so tragic that one political party is so intent on helping the wealthy that they are willing to let their different approaches cause rifts in the party in plain sight of the American people. The good news is that the public now understands that regardless the tactics, Republicans are not on their side.
All this is good news for Democrats, but any dissension in Congress portends more of the contentious negotiations that led to an impasse in the super committee tasked with deficit reduction. It also means the chance of extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for a full year faces an uphill battle in both houses of Congress. There cannot be significant and productive negotiations between Democratic and Republican representatives when Republicans are divided between themselves and as usual, the people will pay the ultimate price. But that is, after all, what Republicans care about most; making Americans pay for the GOP’s dysfunction and inability to govern on behalf of the American people. As far as the wealthy are concerned, they are safe and secure in the knowledge that regardless the dissension within the Republican Party, the GOP will protect them at all costs.