But it wouldn’t necessarily be Boehner throwing the bombs.
Chapter 6: ‘Surprises are for birthdays’
A month later, Cantor delivered his “leverage moment” speech at the new Republican House majority’s retreat, held at a hotel in downtown Baltimore. The debt-limit vote might be their best shot, but it wouldn’t be their only one.
Cantor told caucus members that they would get three bites at the government-spending apple: First, the extension of a temporary resolution to keep the government running through fiscal 2011. Second, a budget blueprint for fiscal 2012. And third, the debt-limit increase.
That first bite, however, left many newcomers with a bitter taste and a skepticism of their leadership’s willingness to stand firm.
During the campaign, GOP leaders had vowed to cut $100 billion from the 2011 budget. They began backpedaling on that pledge almost immediately after taking office. The target dwindled from $100 billion to $60 billion to $30 billion, for complicated reasons that House leaders found difficult to explain and the freshmen found hard to understand.
One hour before a midnight shutdown of federal agencies was set to occur, congressional leaders settled on a $38 billion cut — an unprecedented sum, but far short of what the freshmen had been promised. Then, just before the House vote, the freshmen were handed another disappointment: Budget analysts reported that the plan would reduce actual spending in the current year by only $350 million.
The measure passed, but 59 House Republicans defected, including 27 freshmen.
Allen West, a frustrated tea party freshman from Florida, derided the 2011 budget cuts as “a raindrop in the ocean” and said House leaders needed to have a “come to Jesus” moment.
“I like people to be upfront with me. Surprises are for birthdays,” West told reporters.
In the midst of that battle, Ryan rolled out his 2012 budget blueprint, in part to revive his party’s flagging spirits. As chairman of the House Budget committee, Ryan had a high-profile platform to pursue the Young Gun agenda.
Republicans enthusiastically embraced his plan to privatize Medicare for future retirees, slash spending on Medicaid and sharply reduce tax rates for corporations and the wealthy.
Still, the success of the Ryan budget in the House (it never passed the Senate) couldn’t fully erase the bad taste of the first bite of the budget apple. South Carolina’s Scott called the battle over the 2011 budget a “defining moment” for the newcomers. “It strengthened our resolve to stick together,” he said, “not necessarily against anyone, but for the people back home.’’
Others felt the leadership built up expectations even more by suggesting that the real battle lay ahead. Rep. Mike Coffman, a freshman from Colorado, said the message from Boehner and Cantor was clear. “They were saying, ‘This is really not the place to take a stand. We’re going to have a lot more leverage with the debt ceiling.’ ”
Chapter 7: ‘Hold the freaking line’
At town halls back home, many GOP legislators encountered constituents who beseeched them to refuse an increase in the debt ceiling outright, or else not to vote for an increase without massive spending cuts.
Meanwhile, in the lightning-fast feedback loop of the Internet, a host of outside influences kept reminding the freshmen that their words and actions were being watched.
FreedomWorks and other tea party groups warned Republicans to stick to their fiscal promises. FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe, declared, “There will be serious consequences at the ballot box for Republicans blinking on this issue.”
The Tea Party Patriots encouraged organizers in districts across the country to keep up the pressure on their representatives.
“We’ve got to keep watching them,” the group’s co-founder, Jenny Beth Martin, said as she wrapped up a hot afternoon of meetings on Capitol Hill. “Quite a few of them are blindly trusting the leadership, and that’s very disappointing.”
Martin warned that her group would recruit candidates to challenge any GOP lawmakers who wavered on the debt limit. Her threat revolved around a new verb that had begun to crop up in tea party circles. “I think we are going to see people who are ‘primaried’ next year,” she said.
Erick Erickson, editor of RedState.com, a conservative blog with a large following, attacked the House leadership’s apparent willingness to compromise. He implored rank-and-file conservatives to stand strong.
“Fear has no business entering into your negotiations,” he wrote. “There is no fallback. There is no alternative. Hold the freaking line.”