US Republicans start new Congress bruised and divided

Tea party effect

Paul Light, a New York University professor and a specialist on Congress, said the vote on the fiscal cliff bill could mark the start of a "major realignment" in the run-up to the 2014 congressional elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Republicans who voted for the legislation "are going to have to find a home. They're not going to find it with the Tea Party," Light said.

He said that Republicans who were uncomfortable with the Tea Party could begin aligning themselves more closely with a dwindling band of centrist Democrats.

Congressional Republicans, especially in the House, have been buffeted for two years by the Tea Party, which helped them win control of the House in 2010.

Boehner had to navigate Tea Party demands throughout the 2011 fight over raising U.S. borrowing authority or risking a historic government default.

In rapid succession, Tea Party-fueled battles were waged over infrastructure investments, farm subsidies, payroll tax cuts and the fiscal cliff.

At the core of the disputes was whether the government should be made smaller, forcing Boehner to balance that demand with the need to govern and keep the federal government operating in an orderly way.

For all the heartache over the past several weeks as Republicans fought with one another over whether to let taxes on the rich go up, many see better days ahead.

"By and large, people are probably happy to have it behind them. This was obviously the worst part of the fiscal debate," said one House Republican staffer, referring to the tax hikes.

The staffer added, "Republicans get to point out that we still have a $1 trillion deficit and ask Democrats what kind of spending cuts, entitlement reforms they are willing to do to fix it."

Republicans feel that will be an easier lift for them one that they can sell to the American public as they move on to the fight over the debt ceiling.

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