Walking out of a private conference room beneath the Capitol Building on Tuesday, Republican House members looked tired. Not the typical "I-had-a-bad-night’s-sleep" tired but something deeper — a look of battle exhaustion. Unlike past meetings in the same place during periods of fever-pitched warfare with Democrats, it appeared — for the first time in a long time — the fire in their bellies that drove them to shut down the government and risk federal default, was, for now, no longer evident.
These Republicans had just been briefed on a new, bipartisan budget blueprint that would establish long-term federal government spending caps.
The plan, a product of months of negotiation between Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican, and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, lacks many priorities Republicans have fought for during the Obama era. It posits no major reforms to Social Security and Medicare, for instance, nor does it balance the budget.
But for the first time in years, many Republicans showed openness to a temporary truce.
“It’s a positive step forward,” said Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It gets us past these minicrises that have caused all kinds of disruptions on our American citizens and government.” (It is worth pointing out that in October, Walden voted against the ultimately successful deal to reopen the government after its two-week shutdown earlier this year.)
The government shutdown, as many Republicans will attest now, was a flop that failed to achieve the stated goal of defunding or delaying President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Because the new budget deal sets spending levels until 2015, it eliminates the possibility of shutdown battles over the next few years, which serves as a welcomed relief to Democrats and Republicans alike.
The generally positive reception among Republicans to Ryan and Murray’s moderate plan appears to be, in part, a backlash to the ferocity and divisiveness that have defined Washington since Obama was elected. At least for the time being, Republican leaders fed up with the dysfunction are overruling the tea party-led refusal to compromise or settle for less.
This is not to say conservatives are rolling over. A number of well-funded outside groups, notably the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, have blasted the plan as insufficiently conservative and vowed to punish Republican lawmakers who support it.
Their antagonism has infuriated Republican leaders.
The frustration was on full display as Republican House Speaker John Boehner unloaded on the groups after a reporter asked about their opposition.
“Most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal,” the reporter said. “Are you worried that there...”
Boehner cut the reporter off and boomed: “You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?”
“Yes, those groups,” the reporter replied. “Are you worried that there are...”
Boehner interrupted again: “They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals,” he said, raising his voice. “This is ridiculous! Listen, if you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement.”
Boehner’s outburst had been a long time coming. Since he accepted the speaker’s gavel, the Ohio lawmaker has served at the will of an unrelenting conference that made his life hell by refusing nearly all attempts at compromise. For two years, the conference humiliated Boehner by forcing him to pull key, sure-to-pass bills from the floor. In October, they dragged him and his deputies into a government shutdown fight they never wanted in the first place. And now Boehner is saying, "enough is enough, we’ll fight another day."
The House will vote on the resolution by the end of the week.