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Boehner Faces Conservative Backlash Over 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks

House Speaker John Boehner appears at a news conference after a House Republican conference meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
House Speaker John Boehner appears at a news conference after a House Republican conference meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

The Internet has not been kind to House Speaker John Boehner in recent days. On Twitter, there are some new, not-so-subtle hashtags going around: #boehnermustgo, #fireboehner and #purgeboehner.

It's backlash from the right for what it sees as a pair of sins — giving up too much in his opening offer to President Obama in the fiscal cliff negotiations and ousting four outspoken Republicans from key congressional committees.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Tea Party freshman from Kansas, was one of them. He was booted from the House Budget Committee.


"It's vindictive," Huelskamp said. "It's meant as not a message to me. It punishes my constituents [as] I still represent them. But it's meant as a message to the Republican conference in general."

The message appears to be: Get in line. Though the only thing Boehner's spokesman will say officially is that the steering committee makes decisions based on a range of factors.

In past negotiations with the White House, like last December's fight over extending the payroll tax holiday, conservative members of the House GOP conference were openly critical of the deal the speaker made. This time — as leaders try to find a compromise to avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to hit after the first of the year — some of these same members are keeping their concerns to themselves.

When asked if Boehner gave away too much in his opening offer, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., responded: "I guess I don't want to speak to that."

"I think that our speaker is in an enormously difficult position," Franks continued. "And I think he's doing the best he can. And I really do believe that. And that doesn't mean that what he finally arrives at will be something that I can support or it won't. You know, I don't know."


Contrast that to the conservative blogosphere, where Boehner has been described as a sellout by writers like Erik Erickson. Earlier this week, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina portrayed the $800 billion in revenues Boehner offered as a job-killing tax hike. And Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said in a statement that his "plan leaves conservatives wanting."

Then there's what Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. — who has a 97 percent rating from the conservative Club for Growth — said to reporters earlier this week: "Speaker Boehner has a very hard job. I could not do his job, and I would not do his job. So, it's easy for me as the lowest-level member of the House to criticize what others are trying to do, but I'm not going to do it."

In not so many words, many House Republicans are admitting the president and Democrats have the upper hand, both politically and practically. If the country goes over the fiscal cliff, taxes would go up on virtually everyone, and polls show Republicans would take the blame.

"I don't think we have much leverage, to be honest with you. We're just trying to do the right thing," said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio.

Tibieri and his colleagues seem to be encouraged by the fact that at least for now, the speaker is holding firm on tax rates — saying they shouldn't rise, even on the rich. But even on that point, Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold isn't willing to draw a hard line.

"I've got some lines that are going to be difficult to cross," he said. "I'd be very hard-pressed to vote for a tax-rate increase. But you've got to see the whole package and see what it is."

If there is a deal, there's no telling just how bitter a pill Boehner will end up having to ask his members to swallow. But Farenthold seems resigned to the process.

"You're always worried that your side is going to give up too much," he said. "When was the last time you walked out of a car dealership thinking you got a good deal?"

But when asked if that's how he feels now — like the speaker is making a bum deal — Farenthold turned philosophical about the nature of negotiations.

"Nobody gets what they want," he said. "But most people get what they can live with."

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