John Boehner, back on top (for now)

December 13, 2013

It's been a roller coaster year on Capitol Hill for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). And it just ended on high note.


A legislative session that kicked off in January with an embarrassing show of defiance against the speaker ended Thursday with his triumph over the most conservative wing of the GOP, which served as his foil for much of 2013.

The House passed a bipartisan budget deal brokered by one of Boehner's closest allies, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The agreement passed with the support of 169 Republicans. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it.

Majority support from Republicans has been difficult for Boehner to cobble together this year. On this latest measure, it didn't help that a coalition of conservative interest groups slammed the Ryan-Murray plan -- in some cases before it was even officially released.

But this time, Boehner replaced the olive branch he'd often extended to the uncompromising right wing of the GOP with a spear, openly taking on groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, which sought to sink the budget plan.

"Frankly I just think they’ve lost all credibility,” Boehner said Thursday.

Hours later, Boehner strengthened his position in the tussle when the budget plan sailed to passage.

But things haven't always been so smooth. 2013 got off to a rocky start for Boehner when he narrowly won another term as speaker after a dozen Republicans defected.

From there, navigating the various House GOP factions grew thornier as the year progressed. An updated version of the Violence Against Women Act passed only after an intra-party dispute flared up. And even then, 138 Republicans voted against it compared to 87 who voted for it. Later, a farm bill Boehner sent to a floor vote failed.

Boehner's biggest headache came in the fall. After urging his conference not to link the fight over Obamacare to the short-term budget battle, the speaker was met with strong resistance from cast-iron conservatives.

So he relented and tried things their way. Through a government shutdown he stood firm with the his party's we're-not-going-to-budge crowd, which included many of the groups that lashed the Ryan-Murray plan this week. Only after a weeks-long standoff in which the GOP brand was badly damaged did Boehner agree to a vote on a bipartisan compromise reached in the Senate.

The loyalty to the right Boehner demonstrated during the shutdown showdown boosted his stock among House Republicans. Suddenly, he wasn't looking so weak.

And if this week is any indication, Boehner seems resolved not to appear weak again anytime soon. Never has he been so outspoken against the groups that have made his life so complicated throughout his tenure.

It's not clear yet what's in store of Boehner in 2014. The sway he holds over his conference now could melt away. Or it could intensify. Only time will tell.

But this much is for certain: The end of 2013 is looking pretty good for Boehner compared to the way the year started.

Fixbits:

President Obama gets Politifact's "Lie of the Year."

Congress has a new member: Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.).

Lewd videos of underage boys were found in the home of Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) former chief of staff.

Democratic strategists launched a new PAC to help their part win secretary of state races.

The tea party is struggling in the polls.

Three current and former employees of the Georgia state ethics commission have been subpoenaed in a case related to Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

Ryan goes after Marco Rubio.

Ann Romney suggests her husband would win the 2012 election if it were held today.

Senate Majority PAC is targeting the Senate campaign of Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in a new ad.

Must-reads:

"Ex-FBI agent who disappeared in Iran was on rogue mission for CIA" -- Adam Goldman, Washington Post

"Md.’s troubled health exchange prompts groups to warn uninsured about Jan. coverage" -- Lena H. Sun, Washington Post

"Tempers Flare as New Rules Strain Senate" -- Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

"Health Plans Urged to Extend Enrollment" -- Robert Pear, New York Times

"Two Graphs That Could Save the Democrats in 2014" -- David Weigel, Slate

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Ed O'Keefe · December 12, 2013