“The founders’ vision of seeing consensus and compromise in a party conference, let alone on the floor of Congress, appears to be a thing of the past,” said Tom Reynolds, a former congressman from New York who spent two elections as chairman of the House GOP’s campaign arm.
“It is every man for himself,” added another Republican former lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about internal party differences. “House Republicans need to recognize their destinies are intertwined.”
Examples of this go-it-alone approach are everywhere. The surprise failure of the farm bill last month was a result of the rebellion of five dozen Republicans who thought the legislation cut too little. The collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s alternative proposal during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations late last year was caused by conservative Republicans’ unwillingness to get behind it. (Worth noting: While Boehner (R-Ohio) eventually voted for the compromise deal that averted the fiscal cliff, neither House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) nor House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did.) Then, of course, there was the quasi-rebellion against Boehner at the start of the 113th Congress, when he barely avoided being pushed to a second ballot in his quest for a new term as speaker.
The farm bill was perhaps most illustrative of the lack of team spirit in the House GOP. Among the 62 Republicans who voted against the bill, five were committee chairmen — positions they hold thanks to the very party leaders they bucked in voting “no.”
“We have younger members [who] seem incapable of following and who constantly make the perfect the enemy of the good,” explained one GOP lawmaker, who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity. “We have chairmen . . . who seem to think they have no obligation to the majority that gave them gavels or even to their fellow chairmen.”
House Republicans’ lack of cohesion on important votes is made all the more clear when you compare it with the recent unity displayed by Democrats in the House and the Senate. On the farm bill, for example, just 24 Democrats — primarily from agriculture-heavy states — voted for it, while 172 voted against it. On the Senate side, not a single Democrat opposed the comprehensive immigration proposal put forward by the “Gang of Eight” last week.
House Republicans’ unwillingness to play team ball is beyond dispute. But the reasons for that lack of unity — and who is to blame for it — are a more open question.
Conservatives who make up the rump group in the House insist that they were elected to be true to their principles and their constituents, not to a party leadership that many believe is responsible, at least in part, for the current state of affairs in Washington. Their reluctance to go along with the GOP team, then, is a natural outgrowth of strongly held beliefs — which, after all, is what voters always say they want in their elected officials.