House Republican leaders are having a hellish time getting tea party congressmen to toe the line1) because the leaders are in a sort of hostage situation, and 2) they don’t have much to reward them with anyway.
Roll Call’s John Stanton, who has been covering this head-butting between the leadership and tea partiers, notes how leaders wanted to strip Georgia GOP Rep Tom Graves of his seat on the appropriations committee for voting against the government funding bill last month, but decided it would make Graves look like a martyr. A Republican aide told Stanton, “You give them [tea partiers] a bigger megaphone when you turn them into a martyr.”
Politico called Graves “either a rising star or Exhibit A in making the case that Republican newcomers can’t be reasoned with.”
When Boehner became speaker, he did what the tea party wanted and banned earmarks. That made it difficult to reward freshmen who made nice. During the debt ceiling debate this summer, Boehner tried holding a pizza party to win over reluctant lawmakers. Stanton reports that Republican leaders are coming up with other incentives for freshmen who play by the rules, but they seem kind of lame:
• Loyal lawmakers’ bills get voted on first
• Invites to press conferences
• Leaders might show up in home districts
• Help with fundraising not officially tied to votes
The Republicans sound like a bunch of petulant teenagers. No wonder Congress is such a mess!
I dunno about you, but I want lawmakers who are willing to work together. You can’t do that without compromise. The very public refusal to work together is contributing a great deal towards this legislative body’s horrendous approval ratings. It’s also given as the major reason for the nation’s recent credit downgrade.
The government cannot function if its members are dysfunctional, and the dysfunction and resultant gridlock is the result of tea party lawmakers who are refusing to work with their more moderate and liberal colleagues.
The tea party movement brought much-needed, long overdue attention to excessive government spending. I’m glad someone did that. Some of their ideas are good and widely supported; others are ludicrous and don’t represent the vast majority of the electorate. But tea party lawmakers can’t seem to tell the difference; they want all or nothing. That’s not possible in a society as large and diverse as ours is. Grown-ups understand this. That’s why compromises are crafted. Anyone who knows anything about the Constitutional Convention of 1787 knows this. I would invite you to read Catherine Drinker Bowen’s excellent account of that long hot summer, called “Miracle at Philadelphia.”
It is the job of Congress to find solutions that advantage the largest possible number of Americans while disadvantaging the fewest possible number of Americans. That means its members have to work together. Tea party lawmakers refusing to do that will eventually cut their own throats. They’re too extreme and too protracted on too many issues to represent the vast majority of Americans (who lie in the political middle) and eventually, voters will get tired of their intransigence and throw them out of office. It may take another election cycle for this to manifest itself but eventually, obstinate tea partiers will be banished. Nobody likes a spoiled brat or a bully, and the tea partiers are acting like both. You can’t have everything. Either work together or get out.