Will conservative ‘purge’ come back to bite Boehner?
In a week in which White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was using his strongest language yet about House Republicans bringing the U.S. closer to the fiscal cliff because they won’t that accept a plan with President Obama’s insistence on tax increase on the highest wage earners, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his GOP colleagues should have been congratulating themselves. With the White House and Senate remaining in Democratic hands following the November elections, the lone pillar of elected government that Republicans control was united on a cherished conservative principle: no more taxes.
Instead, Republican leaders in the House found a “family squabble” becoming a major story overnight. The surprise announcement that four outspoken conservative lawmakers were being removed from key committee assignments raised fresh doubts about the leadership of Boehner and Co. and, in fact, their commitment to conservatism.
Widely dubbed a “purge” and dominating talk radio and cyberspace on Tuesday and Wednesday was the decision of the House Republican Steering Committee to remove the four from their coveted committee posts: Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) from the Agriculture and Budget Committees; Walter Jones (N.C.) and David Schweikert (Ariz.) from the Financial Services Committee; and Justin Amash (Mich.) from Budget. All except ten-termer Jones were first elected in the GOP tide of 2010.
With the 34-member Steering Committee almost always taking its cues from the speaker, staffers and lawmakers who spoke to Human Events on background yesterday said that the removal of the four was almost certainly Boehner’s work.
As to why, that remained a question. Jones and Amash were among the handful of elected Republicans who backed Ron Paul for president this year. Hours after their removal from the committee slots, the Paul-ite Economic Policy Journal ran a hard-hitting feature denouncing what it called the “massacre” of the Texas congressman’s friends.
His support for Paul aside, Jones had irked leadership on other matters for years. The Tarheel State lawmaker has long been a spirited opponent of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, for example, and had voted against the budget plan crafted by 2012 vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
But others on the Hill who requested anonymity pointed out that all four—Jones, Amash, Schweikert, and Huelskamp—had voted against lifting the debt ceiling last year. By punishing them, one source insisted, “Boehner is demonstrating what will happen to Republican House Members if they don’t fall in line on the eventual deal he makes with the White House on the fiscal cliff—whether it gives in on taxes or not.”
Purged members react
“I’m very disappointed,” Jones told Human Events Wednesday morning, “When a Member of Congress is given the privilege to serve, people trust them to do what they feel is right. Any time leadership punishes Members of Congress for believing this, it is truly a sad day in America.”
Jones feels his support of Paul, his debt ceiling vote, his opposition to the U.S. in Afghanistan and his no vote on the Ryan budget were reasons for his removal from Financial Services.
“But I won’t change my position,” he added, “I felt the Ryan budget did not fully address Medicare and that it did not balance the budget for many years. As for Afghanistan, I still ask why we are spending tax dollars on a crook like [President] Karzai and sending troops there?”
Schweikert, a former county treasurer and budget expert, told Human Events that, with the Steering Committee unexpectedly punishing lawmakers who broke with the leadership on one or two key issues, “my concern here is that the rules have changed. If so, they should at least let you know what the playbook is.”
The Arizonan said he would continue to speak out on the budget issues that are his field of expertise and pointed out that unless there is major reform, more than three-fourths of the federal budget will be consumed by interest on the national debt, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the military.
Huelskamp, a farmer who holds a doctorate in agriculture, represents a rural district and was a natural for the Agriculture Committee slot he lost. Denouncing his removal as “vindictive,” the Kansan told the National Journal that what happened to him and the other three Republicans was a sign that “being conservative in the 112th Congress means you don’t get to serve the committees you want in the 113th.”
Other House members and a few staffers insisted that the members were not punished in that all received other committee assignments that were also significant. But it was quite clear that the four lawmakers in question were not buying it and feel that their degree of conservatism had something to do with their removal from committee slots they obviously wanted.
Whether this comes back to haunt Speaker Boehner and raises new questions about him on the right will be a story closely watched once the new Congress takes its oath in January and throughout the 113th Congress.