Republicans Far From United in Victory as DeMint Demonstrates
It is a far from unified Republican Party that won the U.S. House and gained seats in the Senate.
John Boehner, poised to become House speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be contending with a new breed of Republicans, many inexperienced in politics and swept into office on a tide of anger against business as usual in Washington, including business as formerly conducted by their party.
Tensions broke into the open almost immediately, when Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who helped fund insurgent Republicans against candidates of his party’s establishment, warned them against the temptation to go along with the ways of Capitol Hill.
“Many of the people who will be welcoming the new class of Senate conservatives to Washington never wanted you here in the first place,” DeMint wrote in an op-ed article published last evening on the Web site of The Wall Street Journal. “The establishment is much more likely to buy off your votes than to buy into your limited-government philosophy.”
Newcomers should resist falling into line and trading votes for budget earmarks, plum committee assignments and leadership posts, DeMint wrote. “Tea Party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country -- not be co- opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today.”
Challenge to McConnell
Such words present a challenge to Republican Senate leader McConnell of Kentucky, who will have such Tea Party-supported lawmakers in his caucus as Rand Paul, who defeated a McConnell- backed candidate to win the Republican nomination, and Marco Rubio of Florida.
These lawmakers will likely form a “posse” with other senators that could push the Republican agenda even further to the right, said Michael Franc, liaison with Congress for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.
“You would almost have a party within a party” that “changes the internal chemistry of the Senate in ways we haven’t seen in decades,” he said.
In the House, new Republicans backed by the Tea Party movement will complicate Boehner’s ability to support an increase in the government’s debt ceiling next year while meeting campaign pledges to cut $100 billion in spending.
Spending cuts are “going to be very tough, particularly when they realize they can’t just do it by waste, fraud and abuse,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “The older members have an inkling of that, but the fiscal facts of life are going to come as a shock to the newcomers.”
The new House Republicans have the ability to “turn the place into great chaos” when called on to raise the debt ceiling or pass a budget blueprint that doesn’t meet their goals for spending cuts, said Stanley Collender, a former Democratic House Budget Committee aide.
There may “have to be at least one government shutdown for the Tea Party people to be satisfied,” Collender said. “They are going to need a scalp to take home” to the voters who elected them.
Raising the total amount the government is authorized to borrow “may be one of the most difficult” for Boehner and may force him to combine it with a tax cut to placate the Tea Party faction of his caucus, Collender said. Such a package may still be difficult with new members likely to view compromise as “equivalent with collaboration with the enemy.”
‘Roil the Market’
Failure to raise the borrowing authority from its current level of $14.3 trillion would “roil the market” in Treasury bonds because Wall Street ‘doesn’t like uncertainty as auctions of T bills are postponed,” he said.
For Democrats, the loss of the House could mean a change in party leadership. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be forced to consider stepping down as party leader. If Pelosi, 70, is out, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland would be the likely party leader, said Democratic leadership aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pelosi will discuss with fellow Democrats whether she should be leader of the minority caucus, said one leadership aide. Her personal popularity among members may enable her to stay on, said another.
“On balance, the Democratic caucus in the House is likely to get more liberal” and “that might help Speaker Pelosi if she wants to stay,” said David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report.
Opposition to Hoyer
If Republicans gain more than 60 seats when all the votes are counted, Hoyer may face opposition from other Democrats, said the aides.
The candidates may include George Miller, 65, of California, an adviser to Pelosi and chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Joseph Crowley of New York and Xavier Becerra, another Californian.
Wasserman Schultz, 44, is chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee that doles out spending for Congress, and Crowley, 48, is chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate House Democrats. Becerra has been a member of Pelosi’s leadership team and is on the Ways and Means Committee.
If Republicans score big, the “more conservative members who might have Hoyer’s back will be fewer in number,” Wasserman said.
Republican control of the House and a stronger minority in the Senate will give President Barack Obama a chance to force both Boehner and McConnell to decide whether to accept or reject compromises on spending and taxation.
Obama will wage “preemptive strikes” with proposals that “will aim at the middle” of the political spectrum to put Republicans in both houses of Congress on the spot, said Ron Peters, a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
In the Senate, such proposals will make McConnell decide whether to obstruct or “cut some deal with Obama” and “sacrifice the DeMint” faction, Peters said. “It’s going to be painful.”
House Republican leaders will include Eric Cantor of Virginia, now the Republican whip, the party’s chief vote- counter. He will become majority leader in the next Congress.
Boehner has told Kevin McCarthy, chief deputy whip to Cantor, that he supports him to succeed Cantor as whip, the Republican strategist said.
McCarthy and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin formed the “Young Guns” organization to recruit many of the newly elected House members to run for Congress.
Likely new House committee chairmen include Dave Camp of Michigan, in line to be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax and trade legislation. Ryan, another Midwestern Republican, is in line to head the Budget Committee. Ryan has written a plan to reduce spending for Social Security and Medicare.
No decision has been made yet on who will lead the Appropriations Committee, said Boehner spokesman Mike Steel.
Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Financial Services Committee, has Boehner’s support to become the panel’s chairman, said a Republican strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at Msilva34@bloomberg.net.