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You have to wonder what took them so long, but House and Senate Republicans appear finally to have had enough of the tea party dragging the GOP’s political reputation through the mud.

The question is – and has been – this: Do Republicans want to govern or do they just want to obstruct? Virtually since President Obama’s election in 2008, the answer has been to obstruct.

Case in point: The party never tried to make the health reform law better, but simply tried to block it. How might it have been different had the party joined the necessary work of reforming a health system that was already too expensive and produced only average results?

The party also shut down the government and threatened to ruin the nation’s credit rating, all because it couldn’t get what it wanted on spending decisions. Such has been the influence of the tea party, a band of purple-faced radicals, who have all but driven the GOP over a cliff.

Now, belatedly, cooler – which is to say, saner – heads are making themselves heard. Republicans not only allowed themselves to negotiate a two-year budget deal with Democrats, but finally showed themselves to be fed up with the tea party’s renegade tail wagging the Republican dog.

Especially pointed were the comments of House Speaker John Boehner, who to that point had been a willing lackey of the tea party. Responding to pressure from groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, Boehner said, “They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.”

That wasn’t all. At a press conference, he accused those tea-party backers of out-and-out dishonesty. “Frankly, I think they’re misleading their followers. I think they’re pushing our members into places where they don’t want to be. And frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility.”

He’s right, of course, but they lost all credibility the first time they threatened to deep-six the country’s credit rating. They did so by failing to compromise on a budget resolution that would have avoided the mindless and useless sequester. Yet Republican Party leaders went along, costing themselves seats in both houses of Congress last year and perhaps even control of the White House.

It was, no doubt, a political decision to allow the tea party to run the show. Many Republicans were – and are – fearful of tea party primary challenges. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is prominent among them.

And while the tea party has backing from outside groups, its actual power has been overestimated. Why, otherwise, would Boehner finally have stood up to what amounts to the congressional equivalent of schoolyard bullying? He finally got fed up, not only with being pushed around by a gang of know-nothings, but with enabling them in their work of soiling the reputation of a once-respected American political party.

A battle may yet ensue, but it was inevitable. The tea party may continue to splinter the Republican Party, but if the GOP regains the confidence of independent voters, it can once again become a useful and important voice in the always ongoing debate about the country’s future.