In a sign of the internal backlash against the right wing of the House Republican Conference, Louisiana Republican Charles Boustany questioned the political allegiances and motivations of his tea party-aligned colleagues and said they had put the GOP majority at risk in the current shutdown fight.
"There are members with a different agenda," Boustany said Wednesday in an interview in his office. "And I'm not sure they're Republicans and I'm not sure they're conservative."
His comments came a day after rank-and-file House Republicans rejected a package to reopen the government authored by their own leader, Speaker John Boehner. The result is that a bipartisan Senate-authored deal to end the two-week government shutdown appears poised to pass with almost nothing of substance gained by House conservatives for the shutdown they precipitated.
"The speaker has said consistently unless we can put 218 votes up, and preferably more than that, our ability to negotiate is pretty much undermined and that's the problem we've repeatedly found ourselves in," said Boustany, who has served since 2005 and is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. "Look at payroll tax. Look at fiscal cliff. You can go on and on. There are a handful of members "“ the numbers sort of vary, it's in the 20-30 range "“ that are enough to derail a Republican conservative agenda in the House."
Boustany said those lawmakers are so obsessed with opposing any compromise that they end up driving the final legislative result further from the broader GOP goals. "I think there are members who are in complete denial about their responsibility to govern and to try to use conservative principles to get the best possible legislative package we can get," he said.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who typically lines up with the most conservative faction of the House, agreed that the GOP rejection of Boehner's plan has resulted in a "much, much worse" deal at a monthly forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation Wednesday.
Boustany, a former surgeon who is not known as the most outspoken GOP member, said he fears his party's inability to rule the chamber with its own majority is threatening its hold on the House.
"This could trigger a wave of discontent that could wash out our Republican majority in the House if we're not careful "“ it's getting to that level," Boustany said.
And he pointed the blame squarely at tea party lawmakers who he said were more concerned about bolstering their conservative bona fides than governing.
"Their allegiance is not to the members in the conference. Their allegiance is not to the leadership team and to conservative values," he said. "Their allegiance is to these outside Washington DC interest groups that raise money and go after conservative Republicans."
Only a handful of House Republicans have spoken out publicly against the hardline faction of the House GOP, but Boustany said the shutdown had grown their numbers. "There is a very large silent majority that's getting frustrated with what's happening because of what these outside groups have done by setting false expectations, deliberately misleading the public on some of these issues and commanding allegiance of certain members who falsely place their allegiance to these groups rather than to their constitutional responsibility to govern," he said.