3:26pm

Wed December 28, 2011
Politics

Why Tea Party Freshmen Caved On Payroll Tax Deal

Conservative Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers spent weeks vowing to oppose the short-term compromise bill extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance.

But in the end, the bill glided through the House, just before Christmas.

The final moments of this latest congressional showdown were fascinating not because of what happened but because of what didn't happen.

House Speaker John Boehner presided over a quick session, no roll call, no vote-counting. He brought the compromise bill to the floor under a special procedure. Then the speaker asked for unanimous consent that it be passed through the House. Any one member of Congress could object and block the bill.

But no one did.

Remarkable, considering the outcry conservative Republicans had made against the bill and how little was needed to block it.

Freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas told CNN he considered returning to Washington to block the bill but he couldn't make it back in time.

"The problem was by the time we were notified that a unanimous consent agreement would be offered, where I come from in Kansas, I can't get to Washington quick enough," said Huelskamp, a member of the Tea Party caucus.

Another Republican freshman, Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana, told Fox News the same thing but he blamed Speaker Boehner and the other Republican leaders.

"One of the reasons I didn't stick around is because I had the trust in the leadership that we were gonna take this fight all the way to the end," Rep. Landry said.

It's true that Republicans had less than a day's notice before Speaker Boehner pushed the bill through the House.

But it's also true that there were plenty of Republicans ardently opposed to the bill who could have gotten to Washington in time to block it.

What happened was this: After Boehner's now-infamous conference call in which all Republicans were kept on mute while the Speaker explained what he was going to do, there was another conference call.

This time, all those Tea Party conservatives, many of them freshmen, connected by phone to figure out what they were going to do. They talked out the scenario, say several congressional sources who were on the call.

If they blocked the compromise again as they'd done the week before, House leadership would likely call Congress back to Washington, bring up the compromise bill, and it would pass anyway with a good bit of Democratic support, all because conservatives wanted to have a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut, instead of a short-term compromise.

Arizona Representative Jeff Flake says the freshmen and other conservatives decided it just didn't make sense.

"I think they realized that we had beat our chest for a week before and that no one was buying our, you know, difference between a two-month and a 12-month extension of the payroll tax cut. So what good would it do to go back and beat our chest anymore?" Flake said.

So, in the end, it was a pragmatic, political decision conservatives made not to block Speaker Boehner and the compromise bill.

That marks a big change for many Tea Party freshmen.

They'd come to Washington vowing not to compromise their ideals, promising they wouldn't make deals with the devil.

Some say now they're facing terrible anger, especially from Tea Party voters, because whether conservatives explain the realities or blame Speaker Boehner and say they just couldn't make it to Washington in time, the truth is, when it came down to that final moment, none of them showed up.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Related Program