By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON: House Speaker John Boehner is fed up and speaking out against interest groups on his right flank that he says are pushing his GOP colleagues around and attacking him for not being conservative enough.
For the second day in a row — but at greater length and with more passion — the Ohio Republican on Thursday lit into groups like Heritage Action for attacking bipartisan legislation he said reflects the balance of power in divided Washington.
Heritage Action, the advocacy wing of the Heritage Foundation, has lobbied aggressively against virtually every bipartisan piece of legislation that Boehner has advanced, including the small-scale budget pact that Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has negotiated with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., that eases near-term spending cuts and provides longer-term budget savings and fee increases.
“When groups come out and criticize an agreement that they’ve never seen you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are. So yesterday, when the criticism was coming, frankly 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 Ryan did,” said Boehner, just hours before the legislation was to be put to a vote on the House floor.
Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler said, “Everything was widely known about what this deal was. We were concerned it was going to increase spending in the near term, and it does.”
““We were concerned it was going to increase deficits in the near term and it does. It increases deficits over the next three years,” Holler said. “And we were concerned the offsets were going to be back-loaded. They are. More than half of them come in the last two years of the deal.”
Pressed by reporters at his weekly news conference, Boehner blamed groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth for “pushing our members into places where they don’t want to be” such as in a confrontation over so-called “Obamacare” that touched off a partial government shutdown in October and hurt Republicans politically. Both groups produced scorecards that measure ideological purity that can become fodder in GOP primaries.
Heritage Action, along with Sens Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, pressed House Republicans to oppose a short-term spending bill that would fund implementation of the much-criticized health care law, even though GOP leaders thought it was a flawed, politically stupid strategy.
“They pushed us into the fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government,” Boehner said. “That wasn’t exactly the strategy I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of these groups stood up and said, ‘Well, we never really thought it would work.’ Are you kidding me!”
Boehner was apparently alluding to an interview by Michael Needham, who runs Heritage Action, on Fox News in October.
“Well everybody understands that we’re not going be able to repeal this law until 2017 and that we have to win the Senate and we have to win the White House,” Needham said on “America’s Newsroom.”
The real power of these groups is open to debate, but they’ve taken on outsized importance as more and more GOP lawmakers represent solidly Republican districts in which the only real threat many in the GOP feel is from tea party candidates running to their right.
Boehner has a solidly conservative record over more than two decades in Congress. But as speaker he has backed must-pass compromise legislation to keep the government running and avoid an economically crippling default on U.S. obligations. Such compromises aren’t pure enough for some conservatives, which sometimes forces Boehner to seek out Democratic votes to be able to pass them.