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The House Budget Advances Conservative Principles

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Republicans are finally looking like grownups capable of governing, and much of the credit goes to House Speaker John Boehner. After caving in to the kamikaze wing of the House and shutting down the government for 16 days in October, this week Boehner decided it was time to lead his troops in passing a two-year budget.

In doing so, the Speaker took on powerful, well-funded conservative groups that have pushed the GOP into dangerous territory over the past few years. The groups aren't happy, but it is folly to think they represent the Republican Party much less the interests of Republican voters.

Is the budget deal reached between Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., perfect? Far from it. But it is the best that could get passed in this Congress, and to claim otherwise is wishful thinking of the type that shuttered the government in October.

The House bill now goes to the Senate, where it will pass with a lower percentage of Republican votes. GOP senators who face tea party primary challengers -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular -- are likely to vote against it, as will those with presidential ambitions who think they must appease the tea party to win the nomination. Fine. They should cast their votes to preserve their seats. But they can do so without eviscerating those in their party who don't choose to follow that path. Sen. Ted Cruz, are you listening?

The only hope to get spending under control is to elect a Republican majority in both houses of Congress in 2014 and a Republican president in 2016. Actions that help achieve that goal further conservative principles; those that make the goal more difficult to achieve threaten those principles. Conservatives don't prove their bona fides by losing elections.

Instead of threatening GOP lawmakers with running primary challenges, tea party groups ought to redouble their efforts to defeat Democrats in the general election. So why don't they?

The groups that have screamed the loudest in protest of this week's budget deal do so as much to fill their organizational coffers as anything else. Fanaticism sells. Anger motivates. And most of the groups that the media like to lump together as the "tea party" raise money through direct mail and email solicitations that require a constant hysterical pitch to gain attention in a crowded field.

Groups on both sides of the political spectrum have used these tactics for years. If you want people to open their wallets, the fastest way is to scare them into giving. In the past, the likes of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were enough to frighten conservatives into donating to groups that promised to fight the liberal agenda.

But it's hard to keep using the same bogeymen (and women) year after year, so new villains had to be identified. And what more loathsome scoundrels are there than turncoats? Having run out of targets outside the GOP, these groups started focusing on those within the party who, they claimed, were traitors.

Ideological purges are ugly -- no matter who's doing the purging. Don't get me wrong. It's great to stand up for principle, but that doesn't mean you shoot those who disagree with you.

The only way to make significant progress toward reductions in spending and the deficit is to tackle entitlement reform. But as long as a Democrat is in the White House and Democrats control the Senate, no real entitlement reform is possible.

By passing a budget, however flawed, Boehner helped the GOP take a step toward the ultimate goal of winning elections in 2014 and 2016. At the end of the day, conservatism will be better served through the Speaker's actions than all the ideological purity his critics spout.

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