“As cynical as I might be, I’ve been extraordinarily impressed thus far,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who has occasionally been a thorn in leadership’s side. “Right now the fiscal hawks are winning. I finally feel like we’re talking about spending. We’ve got the debate on our turf right now—and I’ve got to give leadership credit for that.”
But the union is a fragile one. Based on conversations with the conference’s most conservative members, many of them simply do not trust Boehner. And while they’ve been willing to march in formation thus far in the new Congress, they will break ranks if they don’t see a permanent shift in the ideological trajectory of their conference. “Conservatives are giving leadership a chance for a few months to see what direction we take,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. “I think the level of frustration has built up to the point where we hope there are positive outcomes out of the next months. If not, I would not be surprised to see a larger rebellion.”
When Amash speaks of a “larger” rebellion, he’s referencing the mini-mutiny that occurred in January, when he and several other conservative members—including Mulvaney—attempted to organize a coup against the speaker. The effort to oust him ultimately failed, attracting only 12 defectors (17 were needed to force a second ballot). The discontent of those dozen lawmakers doesn’t threaten Boehner; it’s the other 150-or-so conservative members who have stood behind him but are growing impatient with the legislative inertia born by their internal dysfunction. These members are kindling in the political tinderbox, waiting for the first spark—caving on the post-sequester spending levels, for example—that could engulf the conference anew.