Another Rebuke of the Tea Party?

The budget agreement is well on its way to passage thanks to Republican votes, but has anything changed?

As of Tuesday morning, the Murray-Ryan budget agreement is certain to pass. Twelve Republicans have joined with 55 Democrats to overcome a GOP filibuster and bring the deal to a vote. Final passage will happen later today or tomorrow, thus bringing an end to the legislative turmoil of the last year, and providing some stability to the economy. “We have lurched from one crisis to another, from one fiscal cliff to the next,” said Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, “I am hopeful this deal can be the first of many bipartisan deals that can rebuild some of the trust.”

If there’s anything important to note about the vote, it’s who in the Republican caucus voted for the deal. The “yea” votes came from Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Notice anything about these names? Only two, Alexander and Collins, are running for reelection next year, and neither faces a serious challenge. The other ten aren’t “up” until the next cycle. Conservative activists might be angry with their votes, but there’s not much they can do about it. The Republicans who face a challenge—like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—voted against cloture, and will vote against the deal.

This sounds banal, but it’s important to keep in mind as we discuss the political implications of this vote: Other than rhetoric from House Speaker John Boehner and a few other Republicans, there is no real evidence of a relationship shift between Republican lawmakers and the Tea Party. The former are still nervous about the latter, and eager to avoid their anger. If they’ve provoked it with this agreement, it’s because the benefit—an end to the shutdown as a tactic—outweighs the perceived risk of a grassroots backlash.

The test of whether things have changed isn’t this deal, it’s the rest of the agenda. If Congress can renew food stamps and pass an extension of emergency unemployment insurance—measures that aren’t key to Republican self-interest—then we can speculate about a rift between GOP lawmakers and the Tea Party. Until then, we’re looking at the status quo, now with a Republican Party that isn’t as willing to fall into self-destructive manias.