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Wimp caucus’ last chance: GOP moderates face one final shutdown test

Ever since conservatives staged a strategic coup and forced a government shutdown on skeptical Republican leaders, a band of House Republicans led informally by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. -- most of them from competitive districts -- has been bellyaching about the mess they created.

The moderate-conservative civil war is entertaining to watch, but it has been consistently defined by the sane caucus' unwillingness to wield its power as ruthlessly as the insurrectionists. The two camps are roughly the same size, and thus possess the same leverage. Doing almost anything in the House requires simple majorities, and that means fewer than 20 Republicans in the current Congress can align to make considerable mischief. The hard-liners' power stems from a threat to deny John Boehner the majority he needs to keep his speakership; the moderates' from the theoretical ability to deny conservatives the majorities they need to pass actual bills.

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