The stalemate over the debt ceiling reached a critical point late Thursday night when House Speaker John Boehner had to withdraw his bill to raise the debt ceiling. The bill was the second version of a plan submitted by Boehner to address the national deficit while raising the debt ceiling in two parts. The first version of the bill needed revision after the Congressional Budget Office found the it cut only $850 billion over 10 years and only $1 billion in 2012—embarrassingly lower than Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill and far lower than the expectations of his party.
The second version of the bill cut $22 billion in spending next year, and required that a commission find another $1.8 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Boehner spent much of Thursday pushing for enough GOP votes to pass the bill—delaying the vote, bringing in representatives in for close door meetings, and even ordering pizza as talks extended into the night. [Read more about the deficit and national debt.]
However, around 10:30 p.m. Boehner was reportedly still five to 12 GOP votes short of passing the bill and withdrew it from the floor.
The resistance to Boehner's bill in the Republican-controlled House came from the Tea Party wing of the party, including many of the 87 freshman Republicans. Some even doubt the necessity of raising the debt ceiling at all. Those Republicans who refused to support it said Thursday's bill had not gone far enough in addressing their demand to cut spending and reduce the size of the government. Thus, Friday, Boehner seemed to cave to their demands yet again, presenting a third version of the bill in the morning. The newest revision was the inclusion of a provision requiring that Congress pass a Balanced Budget Amendment before the debt ceiling could be raised again. Prior versions of Boehner's bill required only that both chambers vote on the amendment. The legislation presented Friday was a two part bill in requiring the balanced budget amendment be passed before the debt ceiling is raised (a move the Sen. John McCain called "foolish").
Since Boehner presented the newest version of the bill, a number of formerly "no" GOP voters have given their support. Regardless of eventual fate of the bill (all Democratic senators and even some Republicans have vowed to oppose it, meaning that it has no chance of passing the Senate), this chapter in the debt ceiling drama represents a turning point in Republican congressional politics. Not only has there been a split between establishment Republicans and new comer Tea Party representatives, it appears that the Tea Party have completely revolted against Boehner's leadership. Boehner praised Tea Party activists, in March saying, "I'm glad they're here and I'm glad that they are engaged in the process." However, with the difficulties Tea Party representatives have presented to the Republican leadership, they have also shown to be unwilling to compromise and committed to their ideologies, even at the risk of a national default. Earlier this week, Thomas Jefferson Street blogger Scott Gulapo called them "a suicide-bomber wing of the Republican Party." [See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]
Like them or hate them, this week proved that Boehner certainly cannot ignore the Tea Party. As election season approaches, what role will the Tea Party representatives play in the Republican Party. With their refusal to get "in line" as Boehner exhorted them to this week and the further concessions he was forced to give them Friday, has the Tea Party completely taken over the GOP? Or was their revolt against the speaker of the House a one-time thing? After this deficit crisis, will the Tea Party will indeed fall in line or face losing their seats come 2012?
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