Finally, House Speaker John Boehner has stood up against hard-right groups, many of them financial backers of the tea party, who seem less interested in taking in the Democrats than thwarting the speaker's agenda and purging Congress of Republicans of members they consider too willing to compromise.
The position of groups like the deep-pocketed Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Americans for Prosperity and other groups backed by shadowy billionaires is simple: No compromise.
Tea party-backed groups are arguably responsible for the GOP winning control of the House in 2010 and have been living off that victory ever since. But they were also instrumental in keeping the Senate Democratic by fielding extremist candidates unacceptable to the mainstream. And now, for reasons that seem like pure cussedness, these same groups are seeking to dethrone the top Senate Republican, GOP leader Mitch McConnell.
What angers mainstream Republicans is that these groups provoke intraparty feuds and use them to raise money. "They're misleading their followers," Boehner said. "I just think they've lost all credibility." Boehner said these groups pushed the House GOP into a fight to defund Obamacare that shut down the government for 16 days and badly damaged the party's image and standings in the polls.
The speaker said, "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,' " sarcastically adding, "Are you kidding me?" The speaker was perhaps feeling extra confident because Thursday the House handed him a big victory by overwhelmingly approving, 332-94, a bipartisan budget pact that eases the harshest of the across-the-board spending cuts called for in the sequester and insures that there will be no government shutdown for the next two years, at least not for budgetary reasons.
Rather than departing for Christmas recess on Friday as planned, the Senate will stay in town to vote on the budget agreement. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will need at least five Republican votes to overcome the expected filibuster. The usual suspects have already announced their opposition, but the lopsided House vote, plus Boehner's strong defense of the bill, gives political cover to Senate Republicans who vote for it.
It took Boehner long enough to come down hard on outside political groups messing with his caucus. Let's hope he takes that fighting spirit into the new year because the alternative is simply more deadlock.
Dale McFeatters is a nationally syndicated columnist.