GOP finds unity on cuts elusive

WASHINGTON — A month after they took control of the House of Representatives with their biggest majority since the Truman administration, Republicans are stumbling and finding it difficult to pass some of their priorities.

That could make it hard for the party to unite behind its biggest priority, due for votes next week: cutting federal spending.

Tea party conservatives rebelled at the House GOP leadership's initial spending cut package as too puny. It's since been revised to come closer to meeting the right's demand for $100 billion in spending reductions this fiscal year.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio maintains that he's unworried. For some time, he's said he's not inclined to muscle legislation through the House, as his predecessors often did.

"We're in a new era," Boehner said Thursday. "We're going to allow the House to work its will. Leaders are not going to get what they want every day."

Analysts offer a different take.

"This is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party," said Michael Munger, a political science professor at Duke University.

It's a fight between what he called big-government conservatives — who helped drive up spending during the George W. Bush era — and the small-government tea party activists elected last year, who vowed serious change in how Washington does business.

Of the 241 House Republicans, 87 are freshmen, many elected in November with tea party backing.

"This is a reflection of what happened in the election," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a leading conservative voice. Asked whether House GOP leaders were slow to pick up on the newcomers' resolve, he said, "Yeah."

Boehner dismissed this week's turmoil as normal growing pains. "We've been in over five weeks. We've got a long way to go," he said.

House leaders intend to schedule votes on the budget cuts next week, in a potentially big test for Republican cohesion — and Boehner's leadership.