As Congress returns from recess, big battles loom over whether to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank and over whether to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from going insolvent, which could stall infrastructure projects across the country and lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

A key question at the core of these fights, particularly the one over infrastructure spending, is this: Is there a point at which the Tea Party economic worldview — which demands a scaled back role for government that is radical even for some conventional Republican politicians — becomes a political liability even in hard core red states and districts?

Perhaps the most interesting place this question is being put to the test is in the Arkansas Senate race. The campaign of Dem incumbent Mark Pryor has released a video showcasing local officials from the town of Mayflower attacking the Republican challenger, GOP Rep. and national Tea Party hero Tom Cotton, for his votes against disaster aid. Mayflower was ravaged by tornado damage earlier this year.

You can expect this footage — of local officials attacking Cotton, and of tornado devastation — to be on the air in the weeks ahead. One Dem Super PAC has already aired an ad slamming Cotton as “the only Arkansan in Congress, Republican or Democrat, to vote against disaster relief five times.” Politifact rated the claim as “half true,” noting that his votes weren’t really about Arkansas, but adding that Cotton did cast votes against “immediate aid or funded disaster relief programs” and that he “typically doesn’t support spending that isn’t balanced out with cuts in other areas.”

The broader point here is that even in deep red Arkansas, Pryor is arguing that Cotton’s view of the proper role of government is extreme and radical, and harmful to the state’s interests. Cotton was widely seen as having the ability to bridge the Tea Party and “establishment” wings of the GOP. But Cotton’s actual views are deep in Tea Party territory on a number of issues, of which disaster relief is only one: He voted against the Farm Bill and the Violence Against Women Act and supports a GOP budget to the right of the Paul Ryan blueprint. Meanwhile, David Ramsey reports that Cotton continues to avoid taking a position on whether the state should raise the minimum wage and on the state’s version of the Medicaid expansion, which is backed by some Republicans there.

As Ed Kilgore recently put it:

This man with the golden resume is a stone ideologue who may be incapable of adjusting himself to political reality even in the relatively benign territory of a midterm election in a southern red state.

I believe we’ll be seeing a similar dynamic play out with some GOP lawmakers in the coming battle over the Highway Trust Fund. But more on that another time.

* BOEHNER LAWSUIT SCRATCHES IMPEACHMENT ITCH: John Boehner publishes an op-ed explaining the coming House GOP lawsuit against the president, noting it is designed to force Obama to “faithfully execute the laws of our country.” The Speaker offers a clue to the lawsuit’s specifics:

In my view, the President has not faithfully executed the laws when it comes to a range of issues, including his health care law, energy regulations, foreign policy and education.

No mention of immigration. If the lawsuit does target Obama for de-prioritizing the deportation of the DREAM kids, it will be a reminder that the de facto GOP position — which many lawmakers have fudged — is to call for their immediate removal.

* WHAT’S REALLY DRIVING HOUSE GOP LAWSUIT: Mike Lillis cuts to the core of the real motive here, and explains how the battle will be framed:

House Republicans plan to bring legislation to the floor authorizing a lawsuit against Obama’s use of executive action, a move they believe will underline the importance to their base voters of coming to the polls in November to elect a GOP House and Senate. The White House and Senate Democrats are equally focused on winning in November. They see the House lawsuit as a classic case of Republican overreach, and believe it will backfire.

In other words, dramatizing Obummer Tyranny will help keep the base enraged all the way through elections four months from now. Of course, this could also end up reminding everyone else of all the areas where the GOP refuses to govern.

* HMMM — GUN CONTROL AS AN ISSUE 2014? The Post reports that Michael Bloomberg is gearing up his gun control network to “score” candidates’ positions on the issue, with plans to spend for or against them in multiple races. This is key:

“We’re going to be very, very data-driven, metrics-driven, making sure that we identify the people who care about this issue,” said Mitch Stewart, formerly the Obama campaign’s battleground-states director and now a political consultant advising Everytown. “We’re going to show these candidates and these members of Congress that there is a sizable group of people in their districts and states who care about these issues and they’re going to demand some answers.”

The problem has always been that “gun rights” voters are far more motivated; the question is whether a more comprehensive data-driven effort to find voters motivated in favor of gun control can do anything to change this.

* ANOTHER BIG TEA PARTY-GOP BATTLE HEATS UP: The Wall Street Journal has a good overview of the battle over the Export-Import Bank, which helps American companies by offering low-cost loans to their foreign customers. The key revelation: Supporters of the bank are launching an aggressive effort to remind lawmakers — mostly Republicans — exactly which companies in their districts benefit from the bank and how many jobs they represent.

As I reported here the other day, Dems relish this battle because they believe it will reprise a split between the GOP’s Tea Party and pragmatic business wings, causing Republicans to consume one another over it.

* NEW REPORT WARNS OF DANGERS OF DRONES: The New York Times has a useful discussion of a new report warning that if we continue our drone program without adequate oversight, the U.S. could be on a “slippery slope” into new forms of perpetual warfare that other countries will emulate, with unforeseen consequences:

The Obama administration should be addressing these issues with regular reports to the public about the rationale for the use of drones and the numbers of militants and civilians killed. Instead, excessive secrecy shrouds these operations. While the report points out that there may be fewer civilian casualties in a drone strike than in a conventional bombing, drone operations need to be subject to credible oversight. 

Obama himself has promised more oversight, but Congress should be stepping up and forcing the administration’s hand. Yet in Congress, proposals that would force more oversight and transparency are languishing.

* THE WILD CARD IN NORTH CAROLINA SENATE RACE: Karen Tumulty and Reid Wilson profile the libertarian candidate in the North Carolina Senate race and explain why his surprising support could end up keeping the seat in Dem hands:

Four polls lately put his support somewhere between 8 and 11 percent — not enough to suggest a realistic possibility of winning, but conceivably enough to affect the outcome of the race. The same surveys show the margin between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and her GOP challenger, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, at six points or less.

Incumbent Senator Hagan — like Mark Pryor — was long thought to be a Dead Dem Walking, but here again, reality just isn’t cooperating.

* CONSERVATIVES TREAT ECONOMICS AS ‘THEOLOGICAL ISSUE’: Paul Krugman’s column gets at the larger meaning of the tendency of Republicans and conservatives to blame liberals and activist monetary policy for the economic crisis:

It turns out that money is indeed a kind of theological issue. Many on the right are hostile to any kind of government activism, seeing it as the thin edge of the wedge — if you concede that the Fed can sometimes help the economy by creating “fiat money,” the next thing you know liberals will confiscate your wealth and give it to the 47 percent. Also, let’s not forget that quite a few influential conservatives, including Mr. Ryan, draw their inspiration from Ayn Rand novels in which the gold standard takes on essentially sacred status.

* AND NO, CONSERVATIVES DON’T OWN THE CONSTITUTION? E.J. Donne runs through the most recent scholarship arguing that conservative claims to be in touch with the Constitution’s “original intent” are deeply at odds with history:

For too long, progressives have allowed conservatives to monopolize claims of fealty to our unifying national document. In fact, those who would battle rising economic inequalities to create a robust middle class should insist that it’s they who are most loyal to the Constitution’s core purpose. Broadly shared well-being is essential to the framers’ promise that “We the people” will be the stewards of our government.

As Dionne adds, it’s particularly difficult to see decisions like Citizens United — maximizing the influence of individual wealth over the political process — as compatible with constitutional “originalism.”

What else?