Tea Party vs. Old Guard in GOP Rift 05/24 07:15
A long-simmering feud between establishment Republicans and tea partyers
broke into full view, with Sen. John McCain accusing younger colleagues of
overplaying their hands and tempting Democrats to change Senate rules that
protect the minority party.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A long-simmering feud between establishment Republicans
and tea partyers broke into full view, with Sen. John McCain accusing younger
colleagues of overplaying their hands and tempting Democrats to change Senate
rules that protect the minority party.
Tactics for dealing with the government's budget and debt became the latest
quarrel in a series of skirmishes between McCain ---sometimes joined by other
traditionalist Republicans ---and tea party champions such as Ted Cruz of
Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Those four won Senate seats by defying the party establishment, and they're
shaking up the tradition-bound Senate with no-compromise, no-apology stands on
key issues like debt and deficits, government spending and the use of drones in
the war on terrorism.
McCain himself has defied Republican orthodoxy at times. But he was the
party's 2008 presidential nominee, and he now is among those who say a minority
party will accomplish little in the Senate if it can't find ways to cut deals
with the majority.
Cruz, who like Paul is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, renewed his taunts
of the party establishment in a speech Thursday on the Senate floor. The more
accommodating Republicans, he said, are in cahoots with Democrats to raise the
government's borrowing limit by disabling the GOP's ability to mount a
filibuster threat that could be used to extract spending cuts from Democrats
and the White House
Calling it "a dirty little secret," Cruz said Republicans "would very much
like to cast a symbolic vote against raising the debt ceiling and nonetheless
to allow our (Democratic) friends on the left side of the aisle to raise the
Earlier in the day, Lee angered McCain with similar remarks. Lee said
Republicans should block a House-Senate conference designed to resolve budget
differences because it might ease the Democrats' effort to raise the
government's borrowing limit. That rankled the sometimes cantankerous McCain,
of Arizona. He said the tea partyers' tactics could embolden Democrats who are
threatening to change Senate rules that now allow the minority party --- or
even just one senator--- to block various actions.
"That would be the most disastrous outcome that I could ever imagine,"
For months, Democrats have complained about Republicans blocking or delaying
confirmation of top White House nominees, including some federal judges.
Democrats say the impasse over a budget conference is further evidence of a
small group of senators in the minority abusing their powers to block actions
that in the past would have gone forward after a few speeches.
Supporters of the tea party-backed lawmakers say the ongoing IRS and
Benghazi controversies have vindicated their sharply partisan, uncompromising
views. Republicans cite the controversies as examples of Democratic overreach
This week's budget quarrel follows a high-profile split between tea partyers
and champions of a big defense program over drone attacks, and an intra-GOP
disagreement over gun control tactics. It involves an obscure procedural battle
and arcane rules governing the congressional budget process. Democrats want to
set up an official House-Senate negotiating committee to iron out the gaping
differences between the budget plans passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate
and the Republican-controlled House.
Cruz, Lee and others say they fear House and Senate leaders will use the
budget measure to engineer a scenario in which an increase in the government's
borrowing cap could pass the 100-member Senate by a simple majority instead of
the 60 votes typically need to overpower the minority on an issue.
McCain and others, like Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.,
note that House Republicans can block any move by Democratic negotiators to
engineer a filibuster-free debt limit increase.
"Isn't it a little bizarre," McCain said Wednesday. "Basically what we are
saying here on this (Republican) side of the aisle is that we don't trust our
colleagues on the other side of the Capitol who are in the majority,
"Let me be clear. I don't trust the Republicans," Cruz responded. "And I
don't trust the Democrats. I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don't
trust the Republicans and the Democrats, because it is leadership in both
parties that has gotten us in this mess."
At a tea party rally last month in Texas, Cruz taunted fellow Republicans
after the Senate rejected a call for background checks on virtually all
prospective gun buyers.
Cruz and other tea partyers had threatened to filibuster the gun legislation
and keep it from coming to the Senate floor for votes. Other Republicans said
the smarter political move --- which eventually prevailed --- was to let the
votes take place, and have a few Democrats join Republicans in rejecting the
wider background checks. Cruz suggested that Republicans who favored proceeding
with the votes were "a bunch of squishes."
That earned Cruz a rebuke from the conservative Wall Street Journal
editorial page --- gleefully retweeted by McCain. "Would it have been right for
us to not even debate in light of the Newtown massacre?" McCain said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has joined McCain in urging Republicans to let
the Senate budget bill go to conference with the House. She said in an
interview she finds it "baffling that it's a small minority of our caucus that
is holding up going to conference, when our party, correctly for years, has
argued that we need to have a budget." Without a House-Senate conference, she
said, "we can't possibly complete action on it."
She said GOP conferees "are plenty smart enough to avoid any kind of trap"
on the debt ceiling question.
Democrats say the debt ceiling must be raised to pay for expenses already
incurred by Congress. Failing to raise the ceiling, they say, would trigger a
catastrophic default on U.S. obligations.
McCain scuffled with the tea party senators in March after Paul launched a
filibuster to warn of the threat of unmanned drone attacks against U.S.
citizens on American soil. McCain referred to newcomers like Paul and Cruz as
"wacko birds" and said their fears of drone strikes against Americans were
"It has been suggested that we are 'wacko birds,'" Cruz said Thursday. "I
will suggest to my friend from Arizona there may be more wacko birds in the
Senate than is suspected."
The split between McCain, 76, and next-generation, 40-something potential
2016 candidates like Paul, Cruz and Rubio also illustrates the broader GOP
drift toward the right. McCain has spent decades in the Senate, mixing a
penchant for confrontation with a capacity for bipartisan relationships and
legislation; the new generation is feistier and more wary of compromise.
In a Senate floor speech Wednesday, Rubio defended the tradition that allows
even one senator to bring the chamber to a halt. He feels he can be effective,
Rubio said, "because in this Senate, even a minority within the minority can
make a difference."