“This budget agreement takes giant steps in the right direction,” Boehner said. “But when groups come out and criticize something they’ve never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are.”
Boehner has been reticent in the past to criticize conservative outside groups, such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth. Some of the groups have had a considerable influence on the tea party faction among House Republicans, and were the rallying force behind the effort to either defund Obamacare or shut down the federal government.
For the first time, Boehner acknowledged that these groups pushed Republicans into an unsuccessful strategy that he didn’t favor. He expressed particular outrage that one of the groups later said it knew the shutdown strategy wasn’t going to work. “Are you kidding me?” Boehner shouted. “Frankly I think they’re misleading their followers. I think they’re pushing our members in places they don’t want to be,” he added. “And frankly I just think they’ve lost all credibility.”
Boehner showed his first signs of true frustration Wednesday, when he slammed the groups for coming out against the budget deal before they had seen it and accused them of “using” his members. Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity stated their opposition to the Murray-Ryan budget deal before it was even announced, while Club for Growth urged members to vote against it moments after the deal was made public.
“Yesterday when the criticism was coming, frankly I thought it was my job and my obligation to stand up for conservatives here in the Congress who want more deficit reduction, stand up for the work that Chairman Ryan did,” Boehner said.
The deal brokered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) offers modest relief to the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, by raising spending levels slightly from $967 billion to $1.014 trillion over the next two years. The framework produces savings and non-tax revenue totaling $85 billion, $20 billion to $23 billion of which would be devoted to deficit reduction.
Asked if he was officially saying “no” to the tea party, Boehner emphasized the deficit reduction achieved under the budget deal and said there was no reason to oppose it.
“I came here to cut the size of government,” he said. “That’s exactly what this bill does, and why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this or criticize the bill is beyond any recognition I could come up with.”
Boehner also defended his own commitment to conservative principles, which has repeatedly come under fire. This criticism has at times threatened his speakership when he has attempted to negotiate with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. “I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” he said. “I’m as conservative as anybody around this place.”
Despite the notable shift in his tone, Boehner denied that he was turning a new leaf in his approach toward the tea party. “I don’t really think that I’ve said anything new or anything different than what I’ve felt and what I’ve said in the past,” he said. “It just comes to a point when some people step over the line.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised Boehner for standing up to conservative groups attacking the budget deal. “I think it was a breath of fresh air as far as I’m concerned,” Reid said at a press conference later Thursday. “Why are they doing this?” Reid said of the outside groups. “What is this supposed to accomplish? It is showing the American people why the [Senate] rules had to be changed.”