Washington (AFP) – Adrift but unbowed, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are sifting through the ashes of their Republican Party’s capitulation, insisting their failed fight over Obamacare was worth flirting with U.S. economic disaster.
The Thursday morning after their legislative defeat promises a political hangover for many Tea Party-backed Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Their strategy of standing against President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law during a fiscal crisis yielded little except a two-week government shutdown, a near default on U.S. debt, tanking poll numbers and an internal battle that has alienated moderates and set the direction of the party itself into question.
“We lost today,” Republican congressman Mick Mulvaney acknowledged as he strode through the basement of the U.S. Capitol, where weakened Speaker John Boehner had convened his caucus to break the news that Wednesday’s deal to avert default would only minimally nick “Obamacare.”
But “if folks think we’re done fighting about spending, debts, deficit, Obamacare, religious liberties (and) equal protection, they’re wrong.”
He wasn’t the only undaunted Republican.
“We fought the right fight,” it was “absolutely worth it,” proclaimed congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who launched the House’s Tea Party caucus in 2010.
Bachmann and others link their crusade against Obamacare to a demand for dramatically reduced federal spending, saying the monstrous U.S. debt — currently at $16.7 trillion and counting — will only drag down the nation’s economy.
And by giving in on the debt-ceiling fight, some argued it will be tougher for hardliners to press their case in future budget battles, including one expected to consume Washington later this year when Democrats will want to remove automatic spending cuts favored by many Republicans.
“Because we capitulated on this one, we blinked… I think we have less credibility going into the next” fiscal fights, said congressman Thomas Massie.
The Tea Party-backed freshman has flouted economists to insist that the U.S. Treasury would be able to avoid default for significant time even if it could no longer borrow new money.
“Americans want somebody to stand up to the establishment here, and that’s what we did,” Massie said.
The movement’s current flag-bearer, Senator Ted Cruz — another freshman — has become the poster child of congressional intransigence, incurring wrath for helping send the government careening into shutdown.
But he insisted Wednesday the fight he and House conservatives have waged was a “remarkable victory” and “a profile in courage.”
Some fellow Republicans warned against such characterizations.
“First of all we should block out Ted Cruz,” Republican congressman Peter King told reporters when asked the path forward for the party.
King has repeatedly stressed that Republicans could be cast into the political wilderness after the shutdown and default threat debacles, which polls show are being largely blamed on conservatives.
“We’re alive, that’s the important thing, (but) it certainly wasn’t a win,” King said of the fight.