Debt Plan

GOP's Circular Firing Squad

Conservative allies are shooting at one another over the Boehner debt plan.

If the Republican Party isn’t having a collective nervous breakdown about the impending default deadline, it’s doing a pretty good imitation.The level of finger-pointing within the conservative movement is getting uglier by the moment.It’s not that Democrats don’t have plenty of divisions over the Obama approach—hey, they’re Democrats—but at the moment the heat is really on John Boehner. He’s caught between his usual corporate backers, who desperately want a debt deal, and his Tea Party wing, which has opposed every effort at hammering out a compromise.Keep in mind that Boehner is proposing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts—and none of the tax increases sought by Democrats--in the first phase of his blueprint to raise the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline.John McCain went off on the “bizarre” logic of Republicans who are opposing the House speaker’s latest plan. “Maybe some people who have only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe that,” McCain said. “Others know better. Others know better.”The party’s 2008 presidential candidate also took a whack at the Tea Party insurgents who knocked off establishment figures in last year’s Senate primaries and then crashed and burned. “This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into G.O.P. nominees,” he said.Meanwhile—and this is like a scene from some B-movie about Washington—some GOP lawmakers were chanting “fire him, fire him!” at a Republican staffer who incurred their displeasure.Some of the rank and file were angry about e-mails from Paul Teller, executive director of the Republican Study Group, a caucus of 175 mostly conservative House members, to right-wing activists, urging them to “kill the Boehner deal.” One of his staffers, according to Politico, wrote that “we need statements coming up to the Hill every hour of the day in mounting opposition to the plan.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who belongs to the group, was quoted as saying that “I don’t like to see Republicans attacking other Republicans.”If so, this must not be a great week for Cantor.Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol let Boehner’s critics on the right have it, saying: “To vote against John Boehner on the House floor this week in the biggest showdown of the current Congress is to choose to vote with Nancy Pelosi. To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama. It is to choose to increase the chances that worse legislation than Boehner’s passes.”And there was this live-in-the-real-world slam from Kristol: “Can the pro-Obama right explain how defeat for Boehner on the House floor would redound to conservatives' benefit, to their ability to do more and to go further?”That was pattycake, though, compared to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which finds it strange that some GOPers and outside conservatives are condemning Boehner’s proposal as a “fiscal sellout”:“The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.”Boehner himself aimed some pretty sharp language at his hell-no bloc, anchored by the 87 freshmen elected last November. “Well, first they want more,” said Boehner. “And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment. I’m not sure that that — I don’t think that that strategy works. Because I think the closer we get to August the second, frankly, the less leverage we have vis a vis our colleagues in the Senate and the White House.”And several news outlets are reporting that Boehner told his COP colleagues at a closed-door meeting: "Get your ass in line." Pretty strong words from an obviously frustrated party leader. The heat of the moment is melting away the usual niceties that bind together members of the same political party. This is pretty close to a circular firing squad as Boehner scrambles to find 218 votes to avert fiscal Armaggeddon. It would be downright entertaining if the stakes weren’t so high.