One year ago, Tea Party legislators were making final preparations for their glorious arrival in Washington after trouncing Democrats in the November elections. And it was a good time to be a member of the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd. In December 2010, CNN announced it would hold a Tea Party–branded Republican presidential debate, House Speaker-to-be John Boehner defiantly told 60 Minutes that “I reject the word” compromise and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed to appear before the nascent, Michele Bachmann–led Tea Party House caucus. Moreover, Tea Party legislators who weren’t even in office yet pressured Republicans who were to scuttle a large spending bill, setting up a showdown that led to the extension of the Bush tax cuts.
Sure, there were a few bumps along the way—like when one incoming Florida representative had to fire a talk-radio host he had (inexplicably) hired as chief of staff, after it was revealed the radio talker thought illegal immigrants should be hanged and that if ballots didn’t work, “bullets would”—but largely, it was a triumphant time.
In the ensuing months, the Tea Party was able to force the government to come within hours of shutting down, extracting many demands in the process, and then bullied President Obama all summer on the debt ceiling—and that standoff resulted in mandatory cuts of over $2 trillion to the federal budget and a “supercommittee” on the federal deficit, not to mention endless news coverage focused on debt and austerity.
Now, recalcitrant members of the House of Representatives, led once again by the compromise-averse Tea Party crowd, are refusing to approve a year-end bill to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for almost 3 million Americans.
You can read our coverage of this debate over the past several weeks here, here, here and here. But in short, after President Obama and Congressional Democrats requested a one-year extension of these provisions, the Senate hammered out a compromise: a two-month extension, with a poison pill on the Keystone XL pipeline inserted.
This compromise got eighty-nine votes in the Senate—a near-unheard-of level of agreement there—including thirty-nine Republicans. Boehner said he thought the deal was “good,” only to be quickly rebuffed by the Tea Party. It thinks of the deal as “liberal Democrat incrementalism,” in the words of one Representative, and insists that every last one of its radical policy riders be attached to the final bill—from drug-testing unemployed Americans to repealing environmental regulations.