Boehner's Fear of Turning Tea Party Congressmen into Martyrs

Elspeth Reeve
Boehner's Fear of Turning Tea Party Congressmen into Martyrs

House Republican leaders are afraid to punish conservative congressmen for not toeing the line because it would turn them into martyrs, but they don't have much to reward them with either. Roll Call's John Stanton reports the House Speaker John Boehner promised to punish who didn’t vote for govermnent funding bill last month, but it was an empty threat. Leaders wanted to strip Rep. Tom Graves of his seat on the appropriations committee for voting against the measure, but decided Grave would use it to his advantage. "You give them a bigger megaphone when you turn them into a martyr," a Republican aide told Stanton. Politico called Graves "either a rising star or Exhibit A in making the case that Republican newcomers can't be reasoned with." Rep. Cynthia Lummis said of Republican freshmen, "The culture around here is changing ... And with change comes angst," Politico reports.

When Boehner became speaker, he did what the Tea Party wanted and banned earmarks. That means it's really hard to reward freshmen who make nice. During the debt ceiling debate this summer, Boehner tried holding a pizza party to win over reluctant lawmakers. Stanton reports that Republican leaders are coming up with other incentives for freshmen who play by the rules, but they seem kind of lame:

  • Loyal lawmakers' bills get voted on first.
  • Invites to press conferences.
  • Leaders might show up in home districts.
  • Help with fundraising not officially tied to votes.

The last reward is tricky -- federal election law forbids such paybacks for votes -- but "there is no denying that [leaders] ... are much sought-after fundraisers, particularly for lawmakers facing difficult re-elections or for freshmen who do not have a substantial bullpen of top-dollar donors." But the problem is, some of these Tea Party guys don't care if they're reelected anyway! Then there are cases like Rep. Jeff Landry, who lost his Louisiana district through redistricting, and is  now running against the well-behaved Rep. Charles Boustany. In September, Boustany voted for Republicans preferred stopgap funding bill, and Landry didn't. It failed, and " embarrassing defeat" to Boehner. Landry raised more money than Boustany in the third quarter of this year, the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Jonathan Tilove reports. "Boustany is a far more low-key inside player, whereas Landry, a Tea Party favorite, has a far noisier, more peppery style, and has proven quite adept at drawing free media attention," Tilove writes.