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Friday, 18 October 2013 03:29

Budget crisis exposes deepening rift in GOP

   BOSTON (AP) — Lawmakers and strategists from the Republican Party's establishment are lashing out at tea partiers and congressional conservatives whose unflinching demands triggered the 16-day partial government shutdown and sent the GOP's popularity plunging to record lows.

   The open criticism is a stark reversal from just three years ago when the GOP embraced new energy from the insurgent group to fuel a return to power in the House.

   For a party in an extended identity crisis, the intensifying clash between those in its mainstream and those on its far-right wing muddies its strategy ahead of the 2014 elections.

   In the view of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, House Republicans overreached during the budget impasse by believing "we have one-half of one-third of the power in Washington, therefore we have three-fourths of the ability to get things done."

   Republicans run the House, but Democrats control the Senate and the White House.

   Bush, a potential 2016 presidential candidate who was hosting an education conference in Boston, argued that congressional Republicans represent "the mirror opposite" of the successes of GOP governors.

   Other party elders, whose calls for compromise were often overshadowed by the tea party in recent weeks, blamed conservative groups such as Heritage Action, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth. They were influential during the debate, at times promising to help defeat Republicans lawmakers who voted for a compromise with Democrats.

   "The right is a multiplicity of various groups, some of which aren't even Republicans, but who think they can control the Republican Party," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, condemning tactics he referred to as "radicalness."

   Republican strategist Mike Murphy chided what he called "the stupid wing of the Republican Party."

   "There's tension and there ought to be a questioning of whether we ought to listen to such bad advice," Murphy said when asked about the influence of conservative groups. "We took a huge brand hit. It's self-inflicted. ... I'm glad there are no elections tomorrow."

   The government reopened Thursday after Congress voted the night before to end the shutdown and increase the nation's borrowing authority, narrowly averting what business leaders feared would be economic disaster with global implications.

   Polls suggest that voters overwhelmingly disapproved of congressional Republicans' handling of the crises.

   Gallup found earlier in the month that just 28 percent of Americans reported a favorable opinion of the GOP, its lowest rating since the firm began such polling about the two parties in 1992. Republicans may have fared worse than Democrats during the ordeal, but neither party escaped political damage.

   "There are no winners here," President Barack Obama said Thursday.

   The compromise package, brokered by a group of moderate Senate Republicans and Democrats, funds the government through Jan. 15. To head off a default, the agreement gives the government the authority to borrow what it needs through Feb. 7. Treasury officials will be able to use bookkeeping maneuvers to delay a potential default for several weeks beyond that date, as they have done in the past.

   Lawmakers are now trying to find agreement on how to replace this year's automatic, across-the-board spending cuts with more orderly deficit reduction. But the showdown and subsequent criticism from establishment Republicans seemed to embolden defiant conservatives, who promised more hard-line tactics in the coming months. Some pledged to work harder than ever to defeat Republicans who stand in their way.

   "Congress has failed," the Tea Party Express said in a fundraising message.

   Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party favorite, hinted at primary challenges for Republican incumbents "from sea to shining sea" just hours after Congress voted to end the shutdown.

   "Friends, do not be discouraged by the shenanigans of D.C.'s permanent political class," she wrote on her Facebook page. "Be energized. We're going to shake things up in 2014."

   The Club for Growth on Thursday endorsed a GOP challenger to Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who has yet to decide whether he will seek re-election next year. Tea party groups are also supporting the conservative challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky while backing like-minded candidates in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

   Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she hopes her party would move toward "common-sense problem solvers" in the future.

   "I don't want to go down this road again," she said in an interview with The Associated Press, noting that she disagreed with congressional conservatives' tactics during the budget fight. "What we take from this experience is that there are obviously common-sense problem solvers, and that's where the party needs to be."

   Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is among those pushing for mainstream Republicans to play a more significant role in party politics.

   "We don't have leadership in Washington, D.C.," Branstad said of his party, making an exception for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who is helping lead bipartisan budget talks and headlining a Branstad fundraiser next month. "There's a lot of governors around this country who could run this country a lot better than people in Washington."

   ___

   Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and news survey specialist Dennis Junius in Washington contributed to this report.

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