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Unbowed tea party Republicans could shut down government again

At the last possible moment, the dysfunctional United States Congress voted to end the debilitating government shutdown and avoid a calamitous default on the government debt. It should have been a humiliating defeat for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the other tea party Republicans who engineered this political debacle, but none of them are showing the slightest sign of remorse.

That raises a big question about what happens in January when another government shutdown will loom, and in February when the debt ceiling will need to be raised again. Given the tea partiers' lack of repentance for the shenanigans that cost the U.S. economy $25 billion, the most likely answer is that we will very soon be going through the same reckless, costly brinkmanship again.

A lot of people, including President Obama, insist that it will be different next time. But, for anything to be different, some sort of budget bargain will need to be reached before Christmas. Even without the tea party faction in the House Republican caucus, that would be a tough job. Democrats are going to want some new revenue to offset the deep budget cuts Republicans will demand, and new revenue means raising taxes, which, for today’s Republicans, is the deepest heresy.

Nevertheless, if a deal can be reached between congressional leaders and the president in the next two months, House Speaker John A. Boehner would then be faced with two options: either sell the agreement to the ultra-conservatives or allow the deal to be passed with mostly Democratic votes. The former seems quite unlikely, given the uncompromising stance of the tea partiers. The latter is exactly what Boehner did Wednesday night to win approval of the Senate bill to reopen the government and raise the debt limit.

Could Boehner pull that off again and still retain the speakership? Right now, the radicals are praising Boehner for sticking with them as long as he did (and sticking it to the country in the process). That admiration would quickly wane, however, if Boehner agrees to a budget compromise that doesn't please them (pretty much a certainty, since any deal that Obama would sign on to is certain not to please them.)

The tea party caucus has been appeased for the last three weeks, not subdued. Yes, they lost a fight and, yes, sane Republicans such as John McCain are now chastising them for dragging the party down to its worst popularity ratings ever. But, in their districts, these guys are heroes. Their most vocal supporters are only sorry the shutdown did not continue and the day of default arrive. 

A new Pew Research Center survey found that a mere 30% of tea party voters were “very concerned” about the shutdown. Little or no concern was expressed by 37% of them. Even more telling, 52% of tea partiers saw no reason to raise the debt ceiling at all, while an additional 15% figured the country could go for several weeks before the debt limit would need to be hiked.

Those numbers are very different for most other Americans, majorities of whom were quite concerned about the damage being done by the budget and debt farce. But, though they invariably claim to be the voice of “the American people,” the House GOP’s militants are not especially interested in what the majority thinks; they really only care about their like-minded constituents back home. Those are the voices to whom they listen -- along with the shrill, uncompromising admonitions of the Club For Growth, the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Works, the right-wing activist groups that threaten to bring down any Republican who dares compromise with the president they despise.

The tea party Republicans arrived in Washington to do battle, not to do deals. The fight that just ended will not be their last. Their permanent war against all things Obama will still be raging on Jan. 15, the day the federal government could be closing its doors once again.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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