GOP Establishment Grapples With A Tea Party That Won't Budge
October 2, 2013
The old line in Washington is that the "establishment" controls everything.
But the fights that have resulted in the government shutdown have turned that cliche upside down.
This time, it's the Tea Party and its allies in Congress calling the shots. The "establishment" — on Capitol Hill and in the business community — has so far been on the outs.
You can hear the frustration in the voice of 11-term Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., as he runs a gantlet of reporters at the Capitol.
"I'm just more concerned about there not being a clean CR," he says amid the hubbub.
The "clean CR" he's referring to would be a continuing resolution to fund the government that isn't attached to defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act.
That's a basic establishment kind of approach — and it might actually win a majority of both parties in the House if it were to actually come up for a vote.
But it hasn't. What do King's constituents think about that?
"They think we're crazy," he says.
And such is life for a Republican in Congress who is not one of about 30 hard-core conservatives and Tea Party members who see the shutdown as a reasonable and necessary way to fight the Affordable Care Act.
On the same page as King is Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a fiscal conservative with a more moderate record on social issues. Dent is trying to build a coalition dedicated to governing and meeting fiscal obligations.
"If there are a couple dozen people ... who just don't have that same sense of governance ... we are going to have to find ways to work around them," he says. "And I'm going to continue to try to do what we can to get out of this shutdown situation and work with whoever is going to be a willing partner, Republican or Democrat."
It's not just the congressional establishment that's frustrated.
"I think our CEOs are in the same position — just look at this and are aghast at the behavior," says John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan who now heads the Business Roundtable, which is made up of the CEOs of the nation's largest companies. "Sit down and work it out. Stop holding press conferences. Talk to each other and get a deal."
But Tea Party groups level some of their strongest rhetoric at big business as the beneficiaries of bailouts and government favors.
So does Engler think the Business Roundtable's pleas are being heard by those leading this revolt against the establishment?
"I'm not sure they care what anybody has to say," he says.
They certainly are ignoring national polls that show the government shutdown — and linking it to Obamacare — to be very unpopular.
But, says former GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, they do care about what one group thinks: their most conservative constituents. He notes that the vast majority of those members holding House Speaker John Boehner's feet to the fire are from deep-red Republican districts. That's a result of congressional redistricting that was dominated by GOP-controlled state legislatures.
"They are immune to public opinion, but they are held hostage by Republican opinion," Davis says. "And as long as Republicans continue to support this, they don't really have any political pressure to move."
Davis says there will only be movement when all sides feel enough pain. Right now, he says, the Tea Party caucus thinks it's winning. So do Democrats — which means that those who really want nothing more than a resolution will likely continue to struggle to be heard.
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