Here's a funny thing about the way "unanimous consent" works in the House: it requires consent to be unanimous. What the hell am I talking about? Well, after Republican Speaker John Boehner caved to reality in humiliating fashion over the payroll tax cut extension, he informed his caucus that they were going to agree to the Senate's legislation by so-called unanimous consent. That is, he expected every last member of the House to assent to the bill without requiring a roll call vote.

A lot of congressional business actually happens this way, but it's typically reserved for uncontroversial stuff. However, with the holidays looming, Boehner didn't want to drag unhappy representatives back to Capitol Hill to actually have to cast votes (how dare they be made to do the people's business!), and he also didn't want to face a final vote tally where the extension had been passed by a coalition made up mostly of Democrats and a handful of vulnerable and/or not-entirely-insane Republicans. So he insisted on finalizing the bill via unanimous consent.

This led to very predictable whining from the House's most recalcitrant Republicans, particularly freshman Tea Partiers, such as Dennis Ross:

And Alan West:
But what happened this morning? John Boehner went down to the House chamber, asked for unanimous consent, and got it. No one had to give it to him, though. There was no obligation whatsoever. If guys like Ross and West truly believed that no one could "agree to something" on their behalf and that they could "not support this concession," then by all means, they could have stood up and made their voices heard!

Yet they didn't. And that says a lot. They were more afraid of screwing up their colleagues' vacations—and more afraid of pissing off John Boehner—than they were eager to stand up for their supposed principles. For all their whining and moaning, they meekly went along with what the GOP leadership demanded of them. This makes me think that Boehner's spot in the speaker's chair is more secure than many observers (myself included) would have imagined a day ago.

More importantly, it shows that the Tea Partiers are a bunch of paper tigers, and that Democrats can and should stand up to them. Today's success seems like a shocking abberation, but if our opponents are weaklings like West and Ross (and Boehner), then we should be sticking it to them again and again. We can only hope.

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