Zirpoli: Next House Speaker shouldn't bend to spoiled Brat Brigade

Effective parents understand that when you give in to temper tantrums you ensure that your children will continue to have more temper tantrums. The only way to end this unruly behavior is to teach children that their temper tantrums don't get them what they want. Failure to follow this advice produces spoiled children and dysfunctional families.

House Republican leaders have reinforced temper tantrums from a small minority of its members, known as the Freedom Caucus, since the election of President Barack Obama. But now these unruly members are not just disrespectful to our president, but of their own House leadership.


I tell parents this all the time: Don't expect your children to respect you if you allow them to be spoiled brats. Children need structure and routine, and they need strong parents to provide them with behavioral boundaries. Children know when their parents are wimps, and the research shows that children have little respect for wimpy parents.

Unfortunately, the Freedom Caucus perceives House Speaker John Boehner as weak. He has allowed a small minority of House members to tantrum their way to a disproportionate amount of influence. He has reinforced their inappropriate behavior and disrespect of House leadership. Worse yet, Boehner has taught them that a small minority of members can block the will of the majority to the point of — literally — shutting down the government.

Our democratic system allows all to have a voice; it does not allow all to rule. Democracy requires compromise because not all 435 members of the House — not even all 247 Republican members of the House — can have 100 percent of what they want. The Freedom Caucus, representing about 15 percent of House Republicans and less than 10 percent of the total House membership, should not be allowed to stop the progress of the majority, even within their own caucus. This, unfortunately, has been normal operating procedure for the GOP under Boehner.

There are actually enough votes in the House to pass real immigration reform supported by both parties; to get our nation back on a normal budget cycle; and to ensure long-term infrastructure funding for our nation's highways, bridges and tunnels. But the Freedom Caucus has been allowed to halt any such governance under the threat of voting to remove any Speaker of the House who would allow these votes to occur.

Members of the Freedom Caucus, known by some in Congress as the Brat Brigade, understand that the majority of Americans, as well as the majority of members of both chambers of Congress don't support their demands to defund Planned Parenthood or to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They don't have the votes, so they hold their own party, Congress and our nation hostage.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Ross Douthat wrote, "The reality is this: The only way the Republican House majority can become less dysfunctional and chaotic in the short run is if the next speaker wins the trust of enough conservative backbenchers to quell or crush revolts from the rest. And the best way to win that trust is to be seen as fundamentally on the insurgents' side, which is a feat that Boehner, given his background and priorities, could never hope to manage."

Douthat's advice is dead wrong, and this belief is exactly the reason for the House's current dysfunction. In fact, it is because Boehner has allowed the backbenchers to have their way in the past — remember the most recent government shut-down — that has empowered them to continue their behavior today.

You can't reason with a group that refuses to compromise and sees nothing wrong with closing down the government for the sake of their minority views.

The next Speaker of the House should not try to appease the Freedom Caucus; children function best when parents teach them the rules and boundaries of behavior, and then consistently enforce the rules and boundaries. Inconsistency leads to spoiled and bratty behavior.

The House of Representatives is Exhibit A.

Tom Zirpoli is Program Coordinator for the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. E-mail him at