Politics 2011: Herding chickens

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  April 17, 2011 at 4:30 AM
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Speaker John Boehner held Republicans in check when the party was in the minority in the U.S. House of Representatives, time and again delivering a voting bloc against legislation backed by the Democratic majority and the White House.

But then Nov. 2 happened. Republicans parlayed voter disgust into a huge takeover in the House, thanks in large part to the power of the grassroots Tea Party movement and its mantra of smaller government, smaller government and smaller government.

Eighty-seven new House members mostly elected on promises of cutting federal government spending, reducing the deficit and forcing the federal government to live within its means.

The freshman class expects action -- read a lean, mean federal budget -- now. Forget that progress takes time and legislating can be an exercise in patience.

They complained about the deal cut with President Obama on a budget for the rest of this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, saying the $38 billion in cuts didn't go far enough or deep enough. They were deeply disappointed the negotiated bill was stripped of riders, provisions added to the budget bill that have little connection to the subject matter.

In fact, 59 Republicans voted against the continuing resolution -- but 81 Democrats voted for it when the House passed the legislation 260-167 last week.

They're ticked at their leadership and aren't afraid to complain loudly.

So, what's going on?

Negotiations on the budget deal brought the nation to the brink of a shutdown -- CNN reported hands shook at 10:30 p.m., a mere 90 minutes before the witching hour.

"Public reaction is going to be key," said political science professor and national commentator Steven Schier of Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

Who represents the voice of the party won't be determined until a presidential nominee is selected.

"There are voices out there," Schier said. "But they're not necessarily coherent. … It's safe to say nobody is dominant right."

Boehner doesn't try to dominate the media as, say, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has set up a Web site to gauge support for a possible presidential bid. But while Boehner has been seen as reaching out during negotiations, Majority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., flat-out said Republicans would no way, no how compromise.

"Cantor was appeasing the right-wing coalition," Schier theorized. "It could have been a good cop-bad-cop thing going on."

Whether the public bickering within the Republican Party -- and whether the voting public rues some of its election choices -- affects the 2012 presidential election remains to be seen, the political science professor said.

Obama provides a foil for Republicans because of his liberal beliefs, but he also is a thorn in the liberals' side because they consider some of his decisions as throwing their principles under the bus. Because there's a lot of irritation on both the left and right, Schier said, lots of money, volunteers and activity are being generated.

"We have a long history of candidates coming from and appealing to the most ideological extremes of either party," he said.

Schier called the situation "zigzag politics" because members of the extreme wings capture seats and attention then pull policy in a direction not anticipated, and voters react at the next opportunity.

"It's not very ideological … so that's why you're seeing the zigzag," he said. "It supports divided government."

"In 2012 somebody's going to get repudiated."

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