(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Political insiders say there could be more to South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's decision to resign his seat than just a bigger paycheck at a coveted Washington policy organization. Even some legislators on the hill are pointing out that GOP leaders are relegating their tea party types to the backbench and that is making them seek additional outlets to advance their cause.
Conservatives pay high accolades to DeMint for helping to recruit conservative candidates, oftentimes getting them through crowded primaries before setting the stage for general election victories.
Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, praised DeMint for bringing other conservatives to the Senate such as Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas).
"Without him, none of these conservatives would be in office," said Martin in a phone interview with The Christian Post. "If we had more members like DeMint who stood firm on core constitutional beliefs of advancing fiscal discipline, then we would be a stronger nation."
But Martin sees the battle between fiscal conservatism within the GOP ranks growing and with the so-called "fiscal-cliff" looming, it may only widen in the next few weeks.
"We're seeing a full-on war in the center right movement," she said. "What it comes down to is a battle for ideas. Is center right going to fight for core conservative principles or is the GOP going to be the party that spends less than the Democrats? Sen. DeMint was clear on his position and now it's time to see where the leadership in both chambers come down on the issue."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised DeMint on his tenure in the center, but others feel he believed the tea party senator was a roadblock to helping the upper chamber secure a majority in the November elections.
For example, DeMint supported conservative candidates such as Todd Akin in Missouri, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Ken Buck in Colorado, all of whom won primaries over more moderate candidates but went on to lose to Democrats in the general election.
Tony Perkins, who heads up the Family Research Council, expressed disappointment on DeMint's departure from the Senate, but is looking forward to working with him in his new position.
"While I am sad to see Jim leave the Senate, he leaves behind a very powerful legacy in that body," Perkins said in a statement. "Pro-family champions Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, and Mike Lee and Senator-elect Ted Cruz all owe their seats in part to the support Jim gave them."
However, as a former legislator himself who had to endure run-ins with caucus leadership, Perkins understands DeMint occasionally had to take on Sen. McConnell and other leaders and that could have been one reason why he chose to pursue his conservative agenda elsewhere.
"It's challenging to have to constantly go to bat for your causes and repeatedly be told 'no' by leadership," Perkins told The Christian Post. "Thankfully, Jim is a man of principles and has strong core convictions on social and fiscal issues and he will take those same traits to the Heritage Foundation. With that said, we need more like him in Congress and I know he will help us in that endeavor."
And over in the House, four conservative members were removed from plum committee posts over what many perceive as punishment for not towing leadership's line of key votes, one of which was to raise the debt ceiling last year.
Boehner has said that his decision "had nothing to do with ideology." However, the members themselves didn't see it that way.
Kansas lawmaker Rep. Tim Huelskamp told reporters on Tuesday that he was part of a "purge" driven by his unwillingness to go along with the leadership on key party votes. Interestingly, Huelskamp and another "purged" member voted against the Paul Ryan budget because they felt it didn't balance the budget quickly enough; all four of the "purged" lawmakers voted against last year's debt ceiling deal.
The other members who lost key committee assignments are Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).
Huelskamp also said the bottom line was the group was being punished for standing by their core, conservative principles.
"Clearly the removal was seen as a punishment, and then when the leadership says 'others may be at risk,' it's clearly meant as a warning," Huelskamp told WND. "You've got 240 votes currently in the Republican House – a good strong majority. Three or four votes does not make a difference, but you can use those three or four folks to warn the remainder of the conference."
According to one former Congressman who served with Boehner before his was speaker, "The speaker needed to show some scalps with blood dripping off of them just to show others he means business. But remember, Boehner has to handle 434 other members and Obama is a party of one."
Martin, who expects to see House leadership keep their promises to maintain fiscal discipline, has extended a "dare" to Congress, but especially to President Obama.
"I dare the president, and Congress for that matter, to actually stand up and do the right thing for the American people. Prove to us that you will put this country back on the road to fiscal responsibility and that you care about the future of the country. If you do that, I will be the first to commend you, regardless of the party you represent."