Did Boehner Win - or Did Bachmann Lose?

Written by Tim Mak on Monday August 1, 2011

The Thursday vote on the Boehner debt ceiling bill was a clarifying moment, and one that should be reexamined as House Republicans now consider how to vote on a deal with the White House, announced on Sunday evening.

Firstly, the Boehner vote served to illustrate what separates those who would never raise the debt ceiling to those who could eventually be persuaded to compromise; those who were all bluster and those who seriously could not be convinced to raise the debt ceiling.

After all, what separates Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, from Rep. Allen West (R-FL)? West, a tea party favorite, voted ‘yes’ on the Boehner budget deal in the face of massive opposition from conservative activists, while Jordan, not especially notable to tea party activists, voted ‘no’.

A key element is that, with a couple of exceptions, the ‘no’ votes reside in overwhelmingly Republican districts where they have more to fear from a primary challenge than a scorned Republican Speaker. Indeed, the average Cook Partisan Voting Index score for a ‘no’ vote was R+11 (see below for full list). Allen West’s district, on the other hand, is a swing district with a D+1 rating.

Tea Party Republicans in less safe districts are sure now to use their vote on Boehner bill as cover against criticism that they were never willing to compromise and raise the debt ceiling. They voted for the Boehner bill, and now can safely vote against the coming bipartisan deal between House Republicans and the White House while being relatively inoculated from criticism that they were unwilling to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstance.

Secondly, the Boehner vote also allows us to reexamine the narrative that conservatives and tea party ideologues are driving the conversation in the House of Representatives. Some said that the delay of a vote on the Boehner bill from Thursday evening to Friday was a sign that the Speaker lacked sufficient support from his caucus. But when it gets down to the numbers, it’s clear that Boehner – not the tea party or conservative caucuses – is the one who is really running the show.

After adding a balanced budget amendment to his bill - a concept which he had already supported under Cut, Cap and Balance - and some of wrangling, Speaker Boehner was able to whip 91% - 218 of 240 - of his Republican conference into supporting a bill that raised the debt ceiling.

How did the tea party caucus – led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) do? Only 12% of her 60 member caucus bucked the Speaker’s wishes.

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) – a caucus of conservative House members – fared slightly worse. Jordan’s Committee was subject to a bit of controversy last week after it was revealed that his staff members were actively encouraging outside conservative groups to target Republicans who might support the original Boehner plan. In the end, only about 10% of the RSC’s members went against the Speaker’s bill. So who is really in charge here?

At the time of this writing, word is that Republicans and Democrats have reached a tentative deal to raise the debt ceiling, and that the plan will be presented to each conference tonight and tomorrow morning. The vote will be a tough one – in the House, both Democrats and Republicans will have to convince about half their conferences to go along with the compromise in order for it to be approve.

But if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that they want the dramatics and tensions to end – at least for a while. House and Senate staff have been working full throttle throughout the entire weekend, with the prospect of 1 a.m. votes hanging over their heads.

“Monday will be fun,” a Republican staff assistant remarked sarcastically to FrumForum after the deal was announced, in anticipation of the number of calls that will be made to the office the next morning.

“I’m just exhausted by all of this, and just want both sides to reach a conclusion. Everybody on the Hill is tired and wants this to be over with,” added a legislative staffer for a freshman House Republican to FrumForum Sunday evening.