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Tea Party steps up war of words against Boehner over budget vote

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Dec. 5, 2013: House Speaker John Boehner speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill.AP

Tea party activists are pushing back hard against Speaker John Boehner for attacking conservative groups that are opposed to bipartisan budget legislation approved this week by the House, claiming he has "declared war on the Tea Party" with his blunt criticism. 

In a fundraising email to supporters, Tea Party Patriots referred to the Ohio Republican as a "ruling class politician" who only pretends to be a conservative while remaining a "tax-and-spend liberal," The Hill reported Friday. 

The group, which supported efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, accused Boehner of passing a "back-room budget deal which increases discretionary spending, does nothing to reform entitlements, and fully funds ObamaCare." 

The organization called the deal "an out and out betrayal of the American people."

All three top Republican leaders were among 169 members of the rank and file in voting for the measure, which cleared the House on Tuesday on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 332-94.

In advance of the vote, Boehner unleashed a stinging attack on conservative groups campaigning for the bill's demise, saying they lacked credibility. He also blamed them for leading the party into the partial government shutdown this fall. 

Boehner's remarks appeared aimed more broadly at Tea Partyers who say true conservatives never compromise, and at groups that try to oust established Republicans seeking re-election.

House actions under his speakership, Boehner said, "have not violated any conservative principle, not once." He then dismissed the activist groups, saying, "I don't care what they do."

Overall, the bipartisan budget plan erases a total of $63 billion in across-the-board cuts in the next two budget years, and specifies $85 billion in savings over a decade, including the one relating to military retirement. The result is a net $23 billion cut in deficits through 2023, although critics argue the spending increases will happen first, and many of the savings years later, if at all.

By raising spending levels, the bill is also designed to eliminate the threat of another budget shutdown like the one this fall.

Groups such as Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity oppose the deal. The Washington, D.C.-based organizations have also aided insurgent Republican challengers who vow never to compromise with Democrats, even if it means shutting down the government or defaulting on the federal debt. 

Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler said his group won't back down. When Boehner writes off the dozens of House members who won't compromise on tax and spending issues, it means "he's going to rely heavily on Democrats" to pass legislation, Holler said. That's bad for conservative principles, he said, and bad for GOP cohesion in elections.

Boehner's allies say the alternative is worse. When Boehner tries to placate the staunchest conservatives in his caucus, they say, the results are a government shutdown, a major loss on the "fiscal cliff" deal a year ago and other Republican embarrassments. 

Steve LaTourette, a Boehner friend and former GOP House member from Ohio, said he is heartened by the stepped-up actions by Boehner, the Chamber and others frustrated by tea party tactics. He warned, however, that mainstream Republicans won't tame the tea party faction without huge amounts of effort and money. 

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced a test vote for Tuesday on the measure, which appears likely to command the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate, officials in both parties told the Associated Press on Friday.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars joined the ranks of the bill's opponents during the day, citing a provision to reduce cost of living increases for military retirees until they reach age 62. The result could mean "a cumulative loss in retirement income of $80,000" for a sergeant first class who retires at age 40, the group said.

"Although Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, we can't allow Congress to dismantle the programs they created over the past 12 years," said William A. Thien, the VFW's national commander.

A short while later, Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said they would oppose the measure unless the provision were changed. They said a 42-year-old sergeant first class retiring after 20 years would lose about $72,000 in income.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.