WASHINGTON – Top US Republicans put on a brave face this week after a series of surprise setbacks, some suffered at the hands of their own archconservative political shock troops in the Tea Party.
“We’re in a new era,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, shrugging off his woes as the new majority’s growing pains. “That means that the leaders may not get what they want every day.”
Republican aides declare they are winning the war over slashing government spending — saying it’s about how much, not whether, to cut — and rolling back regulations they charge smother job growth in red tape.
But individual battles have resulted in some embarrassing high-profile setbacks: the House of Representatives on Tuesday defeated an extension of high-profile surveillance powers designed to thwart extremist attacks.
The measure fell short in part because 26 Republicans, including many Tea Party-affiliated members, sided with Democrats in opposing the measure.
And the House failed Wednesday to approve a bill demanding the return of surplus US payment into an obscure UN account — a measure Republicans had touted as a symbol of their resolve to cut government outlays.
Finally, on Thursday, a Tea Party insurrection forced Republican leaders back to the drawing board when the fired-up activists rebelled against a spending blueprint they said fell short of drastic austerity steps they promised in last year’s campaign.
Boehner shrugged again: “We’ve been in the majority now five weeks. We’re going to have a long year. You’re going to see more spending cuts come out of this Congress than in any Congress in the history of this country.”
Democrats, now the minority in the House after a November elections rout, enjoyed their opponents’ struggles, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointedly referring to “the disarray in the Republican Party.”
“I think what they’re finding out is that it’s easier to talk about cutting than it is to actually do it,” she said.
The Republican-led House could approve the cuts in a vote expected next week on a measure to fund the US government to the end of the current fiscal year on October 1.
But that would set up a battle with the Democratic-led Senate, which has shown no appetite for the kinds of massive, painful cuts Republicans say are necessary.
And President Barack Obama, who still holds the veto pen, has called for a blend of cuts in some areas and investments in education and infrastructure, part of a plan to slash the massive federal deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years, according to his White House budget chief.
Republicans have proposed major cuts totaling $100 billion for the current fiscal year, and insist Obama has not done enough to trim the deficit.
“Presidents are elected to lead, not to punt, and this president has been punting,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told “Fox News Sunday.”
Democrats and some Republicans have notably condemned calls for deep cuts to foreign aid as a dangerous retreat from global affairs, saying three decades of military-to-military ties with Egypt gave Washington clout in the crisis there.
“This long relationship bore at least some measure of fruit during the recent crisis when the Egyptian military remained loyal to the people of Egypt — not its ruler,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
“This should serve as both a reminder and an example of why the United States must always resist the temptation to disengage from the world.”
But Republican Representative Ron Paul, speaking at an annual conservative conference, railed against US ties to Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down Friday after weeks of street protests and under US pressure.
“We need to do a lot less, a lot sooner, not only in Egypt, but around the world,” Paul told cheering supporters, drawing boos when he said Washington had given Mubarak $70 billion over the years.
“I’m still against foreign aid for everybody,” said Paul, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
“Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of rich countries and giving it to the rich people of poor countries.”
In a straw poll Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference gauging the popularity of potential presidential candidates, Paul came out on top of a wide field that included Tea Party favorites Sarah Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann.
Paul took 30 percent of the vote, while Bachmann and Palin received four percent and two percent respectively.