The vote to pass the “cromnibus” spending bill in Congress confirms the one of the biggest political stories of 2014: Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are fully in charge in the House and will no longer allow Tea Party types to push them around.
Anti-Boehner Republicans tried to stop the bill because it did not defund Obamacare or cut off funding for Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration. Roughly one quarter of House Republicans opposed the spending bill over these issues, but Boehner was able to narrowly pass the bill because 57 Democrats voted for it despite the opposition of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
This sets up a new power structure in the House; Pelosi is Democratic leader in name only, the real Democratic power will be Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who made the deal with Boehner to provide enough Democrats to pass the spending bill. In 2015, Boehner will negotiate with him on must-pass legislation.
And Boehner will be strengthened in the next congress with a dozen new Republican members who took Democratic seats in 2014. These people were elected in Obama friendly districts; they will strengthen the pragmatic majority in the House Republican Conference.
Boehner’s power base is not well understood by the national media, which has little comprehension of internal Republican politics in the first place. Through clever gerrymandering, population concentrations, and just plain good luck, Republicans overwhelmingly dominate the congressional delegations in the northern industrial states. For example, there are 13 Republicans in the Pennsylvania delegation, only five Democrats; there are 12 Republicans in Ohio, just four Democrats; there are nine Republicans in Michigan, only five Democrats.
These northern Republicans voted overwhelmingly for the spending deal, as did the western Republicans. California’s 15 GOP members split 10 votes for the bill, three opposed and two not voting. Because Republicans in the House really are a national party, the northern and western Republicans well outnumber the southern Republicans where most of the opposition to the spending bill was concentrated.
Equally important is the collapse of the Tea Party as a factor in GOP congressional politics. The Tea Party and its allied groups on the right lost every US Senate primary they entered in 2014, and their one assault on a pro-Boehner GOP Congressman, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, also fizzled.
As a consequence, GOP congressional leaders are unlikely to be cowered by the Tea Party in 2015; incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has little use for them, and with the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014 and his replacement with Kevin McCarthy, Boehner now has a much more loyal leadership team.
Nothing shows the extent of Tea Party collapse than the antics of Tea Party favorite Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over last weekend. By dissing his own Senate leadership and insisting on a vote to defund the immigration order, he made it possible for outgoing Democratic Leader Harry Reid to confirm a batch of liberal Obama appointments, including the new head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Sarah Saldana, who strongly supports the immigration action.
Cruz did succeed in getting a vote on defunding the Obama immigration order, and got exactly 22 votes in favor, with 74 senators, including a majority of Republicans, opposing him. Republicans have no real desire to fight over immigration next year and ICE self funds so they have little leverage anyway. Mostly it will be huffing and puffing for the folks back home.
California will benefit from Boehner’s new power with Majority Leader McCarthy as his number two. McCarthy is almost certainly in line to succeed Boehner as Speaker sometime in the future. That reality is likely to strengthen McCarthy’s hand with issues like passing a bipartisan water bill for California in 2015.