Tea Party Republicans flex muscle, put Boehner in tight spot as shutdown looms

Doug McKelway reports from Washington, D.C.


House Speaker John Boehner once again finds himself caught in the middle of a Capitol brawl between Tea Party Republicans and his Democratic counterparts, as he tries to navigate the choppy political waters and prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month. 

Tea Party-aligned members of Boehner's caucus are flexing their muscle and pressuring him to allow a vote on an anti-ObamaCare measure as part of ongoing budget talks. They want the vote tied directly to the budget measure, and rejected a compromise plan earlier this week -- leaving unclear how Congress might pass a short-term spending bill before funding runs out on Sept. 30. 

Boehner, after meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders on Thursday morning, offered no hint of what the next step might be. In the face of heated intra-party squabbling -- and even nastier accusations flying between Republican and Democrats -- he projected cool. 

"There's all this speculation about these deadlines that are coming up. I'm well aware of the deadlines. So are my colleagues," he said. "And so we're working with our colleagues to work our way through these issues. I think there's a way to get there. ... There are a million options that are being discussed by a lot of people." 

But Boehner realizes that the party's public image going into the 2014 elections could be at stake, with Democrats eager to pin the blame on them if Congress can't reach a budget deal and there's a partial shutdown. Lawmakers came within minutes of a shutdown during a budget fight in 2011, and have continued to pass a series of short-term measures -- leaving the prospect of a shutdown perpetually over the horizon. 

This time, the biggest sticking point centers on ObamaCare. House conservatives wanted to make sure the spending measure includes a provision to de-fund the health care law. Boehner floated a compromise that would allow members to take a vote on that, but also keep the ObamaCare provision distinct and allow the Senate to carve it out and vote it down, while still sending the budget portion to the White House. 

House conservatives rejected the idea, and Capitol Hill was overtaken by cross-party bickering on Thursday as Democrats tried to shame Republicans into backing down. 

"The anarchists are winning," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said. "Anything that can be done to slow down, hurt or get rid of government in any way -- that's good. Shutting down the government is obviously what the majority of the Republican caucus wants in the House." 

Reid said he likes Boehner, but feels "sorry" for him and his predicament. 

Democrats generally argue that the anti-ObamaCare votes are pointless, since they stand little chance of passing the Senate or ever being approved by the president. 

But House conservatives claim the American people want them to act on ObamaCare, and see the budget vote as leverage. 

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said the short-term spending measure is "one of our few leverage points." 

"This is the argument we got last time the (budget measure) was coming around -- we can't shut the government down or we'll lose the presidency, we'll lose seats in the House," he said. "Guess what, we lost seats in the House and we lost the presidency. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The people want us to act and act decisively." 

Republican lawmakers are now trying to come up with an alternative plan to both deal with ObamaCare and the budget. Some are discussing a plan to vote on delaying the health care law for a year, as opposed to de-funding it. 

House leaders told their members on Thursday to prepare to skip a planned recess the final week of September so they can work on the spending bill. 

Fox News' Doug McKelway contributed to this report.