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Boehner Pushes Back Against Conservative Groups' Budget Opposition


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. We begin this hour with a rarity on Capitol Hill, a bill that not only enjoys bipartisan support, it has the word in its name, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Well, today the House passed that bill, which sets spending levels for the next two years. Instead of the usual wedge between Republicans and Democrats, the measure has divided conservatives: on one side, outside groups who oppose it; on the other, House Speaker John Boehner. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: House Speaker John Boehner has long had an uneasy relationship with the far right flank of his party and especially the outside groups who often seem to set its agenda. The alerts from FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action urging a no-vote on the deal weren't exactly surprising, but Boehner's reaction, that was unexpected.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you worried that there are...

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: You mean the group that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, those groups. Are you worried that there are...

BOEHNER: They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement.

KEITH: Reporters have been asking him all year about these groups. In the past, he's responded carefully. Now, it seems the floodgates are open.

BOEHNER: Well, frankly, I think they're misleading their followers. I think they're pushing our members in places where they don't want to be and, frankly, I just think that they've lost all credibility.

KEITH: Boehner's complaint goes back at least to the 16-day government shutdown brought on by a push from these same outside groups to defund the healthcare law.

BOEHNER: Most of you know my members know that wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people - one of these groups stood up and said, well, we never really thought it would work. Are you kidding me?

KEITH: When it comes to the budget deal, Dan Holler with Heritage Action says it wasn't unreasonable to oppose it before it was announced because plenty had leaked in advance.

DAN HOLLER: When we see policy heading in the wrong direction, we had an obligation to go out there and talk about that and explain it.

KEITH: Holler says the deal increases spending today for promised cuts years out that may not become a reality. He says Boehner is going against the activist base of the party.

HOLLER: And I think it's a fair question to say, are you content to isolate 40, 50, 60, 80, 90, 100 of your most conservative Republicans to go ahead and push deals through that you know the base of the party who you need to turn out in 2014 is not going to be open to?

REPRESENTATIVE TIM HUELSKAMP: I think conservative groups had it right. Everything they said is accurate.

KEITH: Congressman Tim Huelskamp is a Republican from Kansas and one of the most vocal critics of the speaker.

HUELSKAMP: I mean, how often does Nancy Pelosi go out and kick the left. She doesn't do that.

KEITH: The real question now is whether Boehner's changed tone will also change the way he manages the House. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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