Score One for Boehner
House leadership beat their conservative critics in the budget battle, but the war’s not over.


Andrew Stiles

By a vote of 332–94, the House approved a controversial two-year budget agreement Thursday evening. More important, Republicans backed the measure overwhelmingly, 169 to 62, an outcome sure to be seen as a victory for GOP leaders over their activist critics.

Conservative outside groups had slammed the agreement, negotiated by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray (D., Wash.), before it was even announced, prompting an uncharacteristically impassioned response from House speaker John Boehner.  

“This is ridiculous,” Boehner said loudly during a press conference on Wednesday, after accusing such groups — presumably, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and Club for Growth, among others — of “using our members.” “And they’re using the American people for their own goals,” he said.

Sources close to Boehner tell National Review Online that the speaker, known for his “thick skin,” did not take kindly to the attacks on his close friend and political ally Paul Ryan.  

“I take my fair share of criticism from the right, and from the left,” Boehner told reporters Thursday morning. “But 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, to stand up for the work that Chairman Ryan did.”

Many believe Boehner’s strong stance was at least in part a form of retaliation for the government-shutdown standoff. The party’s image is still recovering from that fight, even as the Obamacare fiasco has Democrats on the defensive. Outside groups were guilty of “misleading their followers” and “pushing members into places they don’t want to be,” the speaker said of the shutdown. “Frankly, I think they’ve lost all credibility.”

Boehner specifically called out, though not by name, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, a key player in the campaign to defund Obamacare that led to the shutdown, by  referencing Needham’s remarks in an interview with Fox News. “Everybody understands that we will not be able to repeal this law until 2017,” Needham said, a statement that seemed to contradict much of the pro-defund rhetoric leading up to and during the government shutdown.

“Are you kidding me?” Boehner wondered aloud.

Of course, leadership’s tense relationship with conservative groups long predates the shutdown that prompted anonymous House aides to launch colorful attacks on the groups and their Senate allies Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Mike Lee (R., Utah). Boehner’s right flank has scuttled nearly every major agreement he has tried to broker in this divided government, from the fiscal cliff earlier this year, to the first debt-ceiling showdown in August 2011.

Conservative groups reacted strongly to the speaker’s criticisms. “Speaker Boehner may not care about what fiscally conservative groups do, but grassroots Americans still care about what he’s doing in Washington,” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “When it comes to ‘credibility,’ actions speak louder than words. And right now, it looks like the speaker is leading the charge for spending increases and recruiting Democrat votes in the House to help get it done.”