Why Tea Party Freshmen Caved On Payroll Tax Deal

Lawmakers walk down the House steps to leave for the Christmas holiday. i i

Lawmakers walk down the House steps to leave for the Christmas holiday. Michael Reynolds/EPA /Landov hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Reynolds/EPA /Landov
Lawmakers walk down the House steps to leave for the Christmas holiday.

Lawmakers walk down the House steps to leave for the Christmas holiday.

Michael Reynolds/EPA /Landov

Conservative Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers spent weeks vowing to oppose the short-term compromise bill extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance.

But in the end, the bill glided through the House, just before Christmas.

The final moments of this latest congressional showdown were fascinating not because of what happened but because of what didn't happen.

House Speaker John Boehner presided over a quick session — no roll call, no vote-counting. He brought the compromise bill to the floor under a special procedure. Then the speaker asked for unanimous consent that it be passed through the House. Any one member of Congress could object and block the bill.

But no one did.

Remarkable, considering the outcry conservative Republicans had made against the bill and how little was needed to block it.

Freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a member of the Tea Party caucus, told CNN he considered returning to Washington to block the bill but he couldn't make it back in time.

"The problem was by the time we were notified that a unanimous consent agreement would be offered, where I come from in Kansas, I can't get to Washington quick enough," he said.

Another Republican freshman, Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana, told Fox News the same thing but he blamed Boehner and other Republican leaders.

"One of the reasons I didn't stick around is because I had the trust in the leadership that we were going to take this fight all the way to the end," he said.

It's true that Republicans had less than a day's notice before Boehner pushed the bill through the House.

But it's also true that there were plenty of Republicans ardently opposed to the bill who could have gotten to Washington in time to block it.

What happened was this: After Boehner's now-infamous conference call in which all Republicans were kept on mute while he explained what he was going to do, there was another conference call.

In this call, all those Tea Party conservatives, many of them freshmen, tried to figure out what they were going to do. They talked out the scenario, several congressional sources on the call said.

If, as they'd done the week before, they blocked the compromise and demanded a one-year extension of the tax cut, the House leadership would likely call Congress back to Washington to bring it up. And the bill would pass anyway, with a good bit of Democratic support.

Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake says they decided it just didn't make sense.

"I think they realized that we had beat our chest for a week before and that no one was buying our, you know, difference between a two-month and a 12-month extension of the payroll tax cut. So what good would it do to go back and beat our chest anymore?" he said.

So, in the end, it was a pragmatic, political decision conservatives made not to block Boehner and the compromise bill.

That marks a big change for many Tea Party freshmen.

They'd come to Washington vowing not to compromise their ideals, promising they wouldn't make deals with the devil.

Some say they're now facing terrible anger, especially from Tea Party voters, because whether they explain the realities or blame Boehner and say they just couldn't make it to Washington in time, the truth is, none of them showed up.

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