Some gasped when House Speaker John Boehner dressed down conservative groups this week as having "lost all credibility." But Democrats were skeptical that Boehner's comments—and his willingness to allow a quick vote on a budget deal that outside groups hate—represent a turning point for Republicans.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Cochair Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said Republican leadership pushing back against outside conservative groups is "a positive sign, but I don't think it's anything more than a momentary sign."
"That's because these far-right groups are not going to quit," Ellison said. "They're going to recalculate and come back at it ASAP, and one never knows what these Republicans in this Congress are going to do the next time a big issue comes up. We've got the debt ceiling coming up."
Democrats are certainly pleased that they didn't see Republican leadership giving in to pressure from outside groups on the budget deal, but by and large, they don't view how the budget deal came together as the dawn of a brand-new day.
"I was encouraged by what [Boehner] had to say, and we'll see what happens today," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said before the budget deal hit the House floor for a vote. As for whether a new spirit of bipartisanship is sweeping the Capitol, Pelosi said, "I don't think it's a one-off, and I don't think it's a turning point."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, sounded the most optimistic that the budget deal represented something larger. He cited passage of comprehensive immigration reform, the farm bill, and other legislation in the Senate with a number of Republican supporters as a good sign, and he depicted bipartisanship as something akin to a virus that he hopes will spread through both chambers.
"The House has always been the block, and now the House seems to be catching the let's-get-it-done fever that has infected a good number of Senate Republicans for the better," Schumer said. "I hope that it's a condition that remains with them for many, many months to come."
The debt ceiling, which will have to be renewed next year, will be an early test as to whether a considerable block of Republicans will rebuke pressure from outside conservative groups, said House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Many of his fellow Democrats are asking themselves whether the influence of such groups has waned enough to allow basic budgetary bills to get through without a fight.
"If our Republican colleagues go home and they don't get a lot of pushback, maybe that will encourage them to cooperate more on other issues. I will only believe it when I see it," Van Hollen said. "I don't see any evidence that they're going to stop their knee-jerk allegiance to Grover Norquist's plan. I don't see that."
Conservative group Heritage Action announced its opposition to the budget deal before it was formally announced—and unsurprisingly key-voted it a "no."
Libertarian-aligned Cato Institute is opposed, and Americans for Prosperity called the deal not just "bad policy, it is bad politics."
Democrats, and particularly progressives, aren't thrilled with the final budget deal either, which helps explain their lack of elation over the Republican politics of it. The deal lacks an extension of long-term unemployment insurance, asks federal employees to pay in more to their pensions, and lacks other Democratic priorities. Left-leaning Democracy for America referred to it not as a compromise, but as "a sellout."
And both sides predict this Congress will continue with the same politics as usual for the foreseeable future.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., a tea-party-aligned member often seen as a thorn in leadership's side, said outside groups, whether liberal or conservative, should have considerable influence on Capitol Hill. And he sees repercussions down the road for thinking otherwise.
"When those conservative groups say there's a problem in Washington, they get tens of thousands of people to call in. It's not fake," he said. "For any Republican to try and ignore them is dangerous to them electorally. That doesn't bother the speaker—I think he's going to retire. But for plenty of others? They're looking over their shoulders, because these are effective groups."
This article appears in the December 13, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.