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Topics: House Republicans

Tea Party has weakened Republicans, claims retiring Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Tea Party,Syria,Defense Spending,Military Budget,Sequester,House Republicans,Buck McKeon

House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., took a parting shot at Tea Party lawmakers as he announced that he will not seek re-election to Congress.

“I think every member of our conference needs to look at themselves and re-evaluate what they were sent here to do,” McKeon said while discussing the Tea Party's influence on House Republicans. McKeon said that if Tea Party House members don't like how the conference is run, they should try to replace House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and others in leadership. If they lose that fight, though, they need to “accede to the will of leadership.”

McKeon has long disliked the way the Tea Party affected congressional politics. During the 2011 debt ceiling fight, Republicans demanded that Democrats pay for the debt ceiling increase. With President Obama pushing for a tax increase and Republicans (driven by the conservative wing of the party) determined to cut spending instead, McKeon was put in a tough position.

“If it came that I had only two choices, one was a tax increase and one was a cut in defense over and above where we already are, I would go to strengthen defense,” McKeon said at an event at the American Enterprise Institute on Sept. 12, 2011.

He hated sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts mandated by the conclusion of the debt-limit debate, because it cut $500 billion out of the defense budget over 10 years.

In 2013, McKeon suggested President Obama might be able to win votes to authorize a military intervention in Syria by undoing sequester cuts to the defense budget.

“I cannot guarantee that we can get votes for it, but I know that a lot of people have the same concerns that I do," he said on CNN. "And if we can fix this, it may help some people with their votes.”

Tim Carney's latest column shows how the rise of the Tea Party in recent years has not only made conservative congressmen more difficult to control, but directly contributed to the weakening of committee chairmen such as McKeon.

"Floor leaders and committee chairmen have always been the GOP's main contact point with corporations' political action committees and lobbyists," Carney explained. "If a member stays on the good side of party leaders, the leaders make a phone call to a lobbyist who throws the member a fundraiser ... Today's conservative groups are fully armed, though. Thanks to advances in Internet fundraising and changes in campaign finance laws, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and the Club for Growth can raise and spend enough money to compete in GOP primaries with the Chamber of Commerce and lobbying firms."

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