The fractures in the Republican Party grew deeper on Thursday as Tea Party groups said they would work to unseat four freshmen lawmakers who supported Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-Ohio, proposal to raise the debt ceiling.
Boehner's grip on his party has appeared increasingly tenuous as he faces an insurrection from the recalcitrant fiscal hawks emboldened by an influx of Tea Party freshmen. But the Tea Party contingent has shown signs of turning on itself, with Tea Party organizations seeking to punish four lawmakers who broke ranks to support Boehner's plan.
Reps. James Lankford (Okla.), Allen West (Fla.), Mike Kelly (Pa.) and Bill Flores (Texas), all of whom swept into power in 2010, were labeled "Tea Party defectors" by the group United West. Tom Trento, director of the Tea Party Founding Fathers, characterized a vote for a plan that does not enact deeper cuts or include a balanced budget amendment a "debt-ceiling giveaway," according to The Hill. Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips said she will begin attacking West and Kelly with robocalls to West and Kelly's respective constituents.
Boehner's decision to postpone a vote on Thursday night illustrated the tension between party leadership desperate for a deal and younger lawmakers determined not to yield on their budget orthodoxy. Lawmakers told The Hill that they were reluctant to push too aggressively for members to fall into line, fearing potential primary challenges from Tea Party candidates. After refusing to cave to pressure from Boehner, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, compared the situation to the hours before a 2008 vote on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a bailout that has become a favorite target of Tea Partiers decrying excessive government spending.
"It feels like TARP did," Gohmert said after a morning conference meeting. "The pressure from our leadership to cave and vote for TARP feels very similar to the pressure right now."
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, have worked throughout the debt talks to organize resistance to any deal that did not go far enough in shrinking the deficit. An email listserv has helped to foment the rebellion with messages such as "Let's kill Gang of Six today. Today. Dead." and "Today is the day to kill the Boehner deal."