Littwin: Boehner breaks free

Are you kidding me?

John Boehner goes all Travis Bickle on the tea party wing of the Republican Party. And he not only beats them (at least for now), he annihilates them.

Are you kidding me? A 332-94 vote for a bipartisan budget bill? The only thing more shocking would have been if the unstoppable Broncos had scored only 20 points against the Chargers.

Yes, the budget deal was smallish and kick-the-can-down-the-roadish and lousy for liberals and, I guess, not all that great for conservatives, but it was that rarest of modern-era Washington commodities — a compromise.

But it wasn’t just a compromise. It was a compromise with a kick in the butt, or somewhere near there. This is what Boehner has been wanting to do for months, for years, ever since the Koch Brothers, the Heritage boys, Club for Growth, Ted Cruz and the rest of Team Purity had marginalized him and humiliated him, not to mention what they’ve been doing to the rest of us. (See: farm bill and food stamps.)

If you haven’t seen the Boehner clip — and the Vine of the clip — you need to. And, if you’ve stopped chuckling, in the rest of his pre-vote news conference, he said the conservative groups had lost all credibility, had shut down the government for no reason, were strong-arming Republicans into hurting their own cause and had opposed the bill before they even saw it. If it sounds like Harry Reid could have written the speech, well, that’s where Boehner has ended up.

It was a complete throwdown. It was Boehner, famous for his un-speaker-like cool, blowing up. Which has to be better than the government blowing up, again.

We knew how this was going to end. There was not going to be another government shutdown so soon after the last one. It’s one thing to be self-destructive and another to write yourself a suicide note.

What’s shocking is how we got here. If I were of a conspiratorial bent, I’d think that the Koch brothers were giving Boehner cover to compromise. They even offered up Paul Ryan as a level-headed representative of the unlevel-headed wing of the party.

But we know better. The only thing these guys hate more than compromise is to compromise with Barack Obama. If Obama was for it, they were against it, whatever it actually was. And if Boehner had to be humiliated again, wasn’t that part of the fun?

Logic doesn’t play a role here. The Obama/Obamacare obsession is where this begins and ends. It’s a different world, and Boehner finally got up to the nerve to walk away from it. And the great majority of House Republicans — nearly three-fourths of them — followed him. And if they’re “movement conservatives,” which most of them are, all the movement this time was away from intransigence. It was an actual nod toward, you know, governing.

And in a move that spoke nearly as loudly as the budget vote, the Republican Study Committee — a House group which basically studies how to be as conservative as possible — fired its longtime director, Paul Teller, because he was seen as being too close to outside groups like Heritage, which now, it seems, really is an outside group.

And so, the bill passed overwhelmingly. And the sound you hear from Washington is gears unlocking.

A few liberals voted against the bill — because they could. It was going to pass anyway, and this was a vote to express dissatisfaction with the unacceptable slashing of benefits for the long-term unemployed. Then there were the hard-line conservatives who voted against the bill. They included Cory Gardner, who keeps burnishing his tea party bona fides. Mike Coffman also voted against it, but he explained in a statement that his problem with the bill was the busting of the Pentagon spending caps.

The question now is what happens next. The answer, of course, is nothing soon. The House is closing shop for the rest of the year. And in case you were thinking comity had come to Washington, the Senate is currently in 24-hour session as Republicans, who lost the ability to filibuster nominations, are trying all the other tricks to slow down the process.

But soon, there will be another showdown. Boehner wasn’t going just for a win on this vote. He was looking for a knockout.

Team Purity’s strength is twofold: It’s got money and it’s got true believers. We’ve seen the threats — and the reality — of primaries for conservative senators who occasionally make a bid for independence. When the bill gets to the Senate, you can expect those senators who are being primaried — like Mitch McConnell — to vote against it. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have come out against it. Rand Paul calls it “shameful.” The GOP civil war is hardly over.

But Boehner is now definitely in the fight. And this time at least, 168 House Republicans had his back.

Mike Littwin’s column runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for