POLITICS

House Democrats: Tea Party Has Officially Overthrown GOP Leaders

09/19/2013 09:25 pm ET | Updated Sep 20, 2013

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats have grown accustomed to the Republican majority passing legislation that won't stand a chance in the Senate, let alone make it to President Barack Obama's desk. But as the lower chamber prepares to vote Friday on a continuing budget resolution that defunds Obamacare, Democrats are declaring an official takeover of the House GOP by its tea party faction.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday that she no longer likes to use the term "Republicans."

"This is a name that has been hijacked by a segment of the Republican Party, the tea party element in the Congress," Pelosi said.

Rank-and-file Democrats had similar comments.

"What's clear is that in the fight within the House Republican caucus, the extreme tea party element won the day, at least for now," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told The Huffington Post. Van Hollen, ranking member of the House Budget Committee, added that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) "must put the needs of American people before tea party extremists."

"It's pretty clear that the Republicans have allowed this group within their caucus -- the tea party leaders -- to demand that we include a repeal of health care reform as part of a CR or as part of the debt ceiling," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who also sits on the budget committee. "As a consequence of that, the speaker has allowed not the majority of his caucus, but this faction of the Republican caucus to really drive the agenda in the House."

Democrats are likely to overwhelmingly vote against the House GOP's continuing resolution, which would strip the Affordable Care Act of funding, lock in government spending at sequester levels and gut the Children's Health Insurance Program.

If Republicans pass their continuing resolution, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will likely strip out the provision that defunds Obamacare and send the measure back to the House. House Democrats said they're concerned that their colleagues in the Senate, and the White House, appear willing to negotiate on the draconian budget cuts known as sequestration.

The White House issued a veto threat on the House continuing resolution in its current form, but said it would accept a short-term measure that keeps the government open while maintaining funding for the Affordable Care Act.

"We are willing to accept a short-term continuing resolution keeping funding at current levels to avert a shutdown and allow us time to continue to negotiate over a sensible compromise on a broader budget agreement," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday.

Pelosi said she'd be open to a continuing resolution that maintains sequester cuts for "a very short time." Van Hollen said he's anxious to replace the sequester and has tried to do so seven times. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) appeared to draw a line in the sand.

"The $988 [billion] level is not an acceptable level of funding and I’m not as concerned about who gets blamed for a government shutdown," Moran told reporters Wednesday.

Republican leaders have been reluctant to say why they caved to their tea party wing's demands on the continuing resolution. Boehner and his fellow House leaders have mostly stuck to talking points complaining about Obamacare, although the speaker's frustration with his conference was on display last week when he told reporters he was out of ideas.

Democrats argued that if Republicans demand major concessions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, such as the approval of the Keystone pipeline or tying it to Obamacare, the sequester showdown is unlikely to be resolved.

In the meantime, the House minority has focused on underscoring the influence conservative hardliners have on GOP leaders -- not just on funding the government or raising the debt ceiling, but also on issues such as immigration and the farm bill.

"That's the frustrating part -- there are a majority of votes in our chamber to pass legislation in all of these areas, but unless these bills are brought to the floor, we can't vote on them," Cicilline said. "It's fundamentally anti-Democratic."

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