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The tea party, the debt ceiling and John Boehner’s conundrum

at 07:51 AM ET, 07/12/2011


House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 11, 2011, as the debt talks continued. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
When Republicans retook the House in the 2010 midterm elections, there were a handful of smart party strategists who cautioned that managing the majority might be more trouble than anyone thought, due to the scores of tea party-aligned members coming into Congress.

Six months into the 112th Congress and House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is learning that lesson in spades, as the debt ceiling debate rages on with no signs of compromise.

New polling from the Washington Post and Pew Research Center paints Boehner’s challenge in corralling the tea party element of the Republican conference in stark relief.

The data suggests that those who identify as Republicans who are supportive of the tea party not only view themselves as far more educated than the average person on the current debt debate, but are also far more worried about the impact if the debt limit is increased.

More than eight in 10 tea party supporters (81 percent) said they understand “what would happen if the government does not raise the federal debt limit” — far more than the 55 percent of all respondents who said the same thing.

Three quarters of tea party supporters said that they were more concerned that raising the debt ceiling would “lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger,” while just 19 percent said they were more worried that “not raising the debt limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation’s economy.”

That stands in stark contrast to all Americans in the poll, 47 percent of whom said raising the debt limit was a bigger concern while 42 percent said not raising it was the bigger worry.

The message from the numbers? Tea party backers simply don’t believe that not raising the debt limit by Aug. 2 is all that big a deal — and they feel that way because they believe they understand the issue inside and out.

That’s a major potential political problem for Boehner, since he has made clear in a series of remarks over the past few days that one thing he and President Obama agree on is the need to raise the debt ceiling by early next month.

If a significant chunk of his House members don’t fear the consequences of a default, it’s very difficult for Boehner to make the case for the fierce urgency of now in the debt debate.

Obama sought to highlight this chasm in his press conference Monday, praising Boehner but adding that the “politics within his caucus are very difficult ... And this is part of the problem with a political process, where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections or obtain short-term political gain.”

For his part, Boehner has tried to make clear that, while he favors a deal by Aug. 2, it can’t happen without certain hurdles being cleared.

“I agree with the president we cannot allow our nation to default on our debt,” said Boehner at a Monday press conference. “But to prevent a default, a bill must pass the Congress.” For that to happen, Boehner added, the bill must include spending cuts in excess of the increase in the debt ceiling.

Over the last few days, Obama has been pumping the gas pedal in this game of political chicken. Boehner is matching him, acceleration for acceleration, but the new Post/Pew poll data raises a serious question the Speaker has to answer for himself: Can he turn the wheel to avoid a collision if the other passengers in the car don’t want him to?

Bachmann’s business practices questioned: ABC News is out with new video of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) family business that suggests it has attempted to counsel gay men to become straight.

The rumors have followed Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, for a while now, but ABC aired undercover footage from a gay rights group that sheds more light on the claim. In the video, a counselor advises a patient that one can be “totally free” of such feelings and that men are designed to be attracted to women.

The report also includes comment from Andrew Ramirez, who first detailed his experience with the Bachmanns’ counseling services in an interview with The Nation recently.

Bachmann’s campaign has declined to comment on its treatment of patients, but the ABC News report will likely fuel new questions about the rising star in the GOP presidential field.

It’s hard to see Bachmann avoiding a yes-or-no answer on this question for too much longer.

RGA goes up in Kentucky: The Republican Governors Association is going up with its first ads of the 2011 election, beginning its efforts with Kentucky.

The ad hits Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear (D) for the job losses that have occurred on his watch and praises GOP nominee David Williams as the solution.

On it’s surface, Kentucky is an interesting choice for the initial ad buy. Beshear seems to have all the momentum, and other races — including Washington, Montana and North Carolina — appear to be better GOP targets right now. But the RGA is flush with funds and can play in most any state it wants to right now.

Often, ad buys this early in the campaign are efforts to see if certain attacks can move numbers. If they can bring Beshear down and boost Williams a little, Republicans might have new hope to win the race.

The latest poll, though, showed Beshear with a 21-point lead.

Fundraising recap: A few notable numbers from the House and Senate rolled in on Monday.

First, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) continued his Bachmann-like fundraising, pulling in an extremely strong $1.5 million in the second quarter. West could have a very tough district after the coming round of redistricting, so he may need the money.

Second, Sen. Clarie McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced a very solid $1.4 million raised and $3 million cash on hand for her 2012 reelection bid. The more she banks now, the better off she’ll be after a crowded GOP primary sorts itself out.

Third, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) raised $580,000 for his run against fellow Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa). Latham challenged Boswell after his district was collapsed in redistricting, and his big total should put Boswell on notice that he’s got a tough race on his hands.

And fourth, former senator George LeMieux (R-Fla.) won the fundraising battle over two other Republicans in the race to face Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). LeMieux raised $950,000, compared to $900,000 for state Senate President Mike Haridopolos and $560,000 for former state representative Adam Hasner.

Matsdorf joinds Dem super PAC: Senate communications aide Tyler Matsdorf will join the new Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, as War Room Director and Senior Advisor.

Matsdorf, a rising star in the world of Democratic Hill staff, comes from Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) office, and before that worked for Blumenthal’s campaign and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

He joins a team that so far includes president Rodell Mollineau, a former communications aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Bradley Beychok, the manager of former Rep. Charlie Melancon’s (D-La.) 2010 Senate campaign.

The super PAC, which has ties to liberal activist David Brock, is one of several new Democratic super PACs looking to even the score with Republicans under the new federal campaign finance rules.

Election Day in California, Wisconsin: Voters will head to the polls in California and Wisconsin today, picking a replacement for former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and picking Democratic challengers to several state senators who are facing recall elections.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) is favored to win Harman’s seat, but Republican Craig Huey has given her an unexpectedly tough race.

The Wisconsin Republicans are facing recalls after they joined Gov. Scott Walker (R) in some aggressive budget maneuvers.

Fixbits:

Newt Gingrich said he won’t sign the Family Leader’s controversial “marriage vow” pledge unless significant changes are made.

There is talk of Georgia Republicans moving Macon into Rep. Sanford Bishop’s (D-Ga.) district, which would shore up Rep. Austin Scott (R) but also shore up Bishop.

Former President Bill Clinton earned $10.7 million delivering speeches last year.

Ohio attorney general and former senator Mike DeWine (R) endorses Tim Pawlenty for president.

Pawlenty weighs in on the debt ceiling on a Des Moines Register op-ed.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) says he will attempt a return to Congress in 2012, but we don’t know where yet. Florida has much to sort out in its redistricting. Grayson is a controversial liberal icon that many in the Democratic Party weren’t sad to see lose last year.

Really bad numbers for Obama in a new Florida poll.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) suggests Bachmann wants women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

Must-reads:

Minnesota shuts down — to Pawlenty’s benefit?” — Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post

Six months into chairmanship, Issa isn’t what either side expected” — Ben Pershing, Washington Post

In debt ceiling talks, Obama tries to keep his balance” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

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