To Washington now and an inside view of the battle over extending a payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for two months. On Friday, the Republican leadership forced a compromise bill through the House. That moved enraged conservative Tea Party lawmakers, many of them freshmen. But NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports that their failure to block that deal was a deliberate political decision.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: The final moments of the congressional showdown were fascinating, not because of what happened, but because of what didn't.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: The House will be in order.

SEABROOK: 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. He asked for unanimous consent that it be passed through the House. Any one member of Congress could have objected and blocked the bill. But no one did.

BOEHNER: Without objection, the bill is in engrossed, read for a third time and passed, and the motion reconsider is laid on the table.

SEABROOK: Remarkable, considering the hue and cry conservative Republicans had made against the bill and how little was needed to stop it.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM HUELSKAMP: 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.

SEABROOK: Freshman Congressman Tim Huelskamp, a member of the Tea Party caucus. Huelskamp told CNN he considered coming back to Washington to block the bill, but he couldn't get back in time. Another Republican freshman, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, told Fox News the same thing, but he blames Boehner and the other Republican leaders.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF LANDRY: One of the reasons I didn't stick around was because I had the trust in the leadership that we were going to take this fight all the way to the end.

SEABROOK: 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 the speaker explained what he was going to do, there was another conference call. This time, all those Tea Party conservatives, many of them freshmen, connected by phone to figure out what they were going to do.

They talked out the scenario, say several sources who were on the call. If they blocked the compromise again, as they'd done the week before, the House leadership would likely call Congress back to Washington, bring up the compromise bill, and it would pass anyway with a good bit of Democratic support, all because the conservatives said they wanted a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut instead of a short-term compromise. Arizona Representative Jeff Flake says the freshmen and other conservatives decided it just didn't make sense.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF FLAKE: I think they realized, you know, that we had beat our chest for a week before and that nobody 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?

SEABROOK: So, in the end, it was a pragmatic, political decision conservatives made not to block Speaker 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 conservatives explain the realities or blame Speaker Boehner and say they just couldn't make it to Washington in time, the truth is, when it came down to that final moment, none of them showed up.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from