Huelskamp got the ax while at hospital with ill father
The Kansas congressman who represents the nation’s largest farm district was booted from his House Agriculture and Budget committee assignments Monday after he released an anti-tax video Friday Nov. 30 and failed to support the five-year farm bill in committee.
The weekend the video was released, the congressman went home to Kansas to be with his father and family while his father underwent a serious operation that he is now recovering from, said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). “I was actually in the hospital when I was informed that I was off the committees.”
The congressman said the video was his idea. “I’ve been frustrated, I think we’re moving towards a tax increase, more than a majority have signed the pledge, so I thought we could head that off at the pass.”
The production and editing was done with his staff, he said. “My staff, rightly or wrongly, thought it was a good idea, too.”
In the next morning, Huelskamp said he bumped into colleagues on Capitol Hill who told him they loved the video, thought it was funny and one told him that he was going to make a similar video himself.
The video was also the debut of the hashtag: #IMeantit, which refers to his affirmation that not only did he sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge that he would not vote to raise taxes like 237 other Republican congressmen, he intended to keep his promise to his constituents.
The ax came as a phone call from Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), he said. Latham is the “regional representative” for Huelkamp inside the Republican Steering Committee. The regional representative serves as a liaison between individual members of the House Republican Conference and the GOP House leadership. There are 11 regions and Latham watches over congressmen from Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota.
“You submit your committee request to him and he is supposed to fight for you in the Steering Committee discussions—of course, you don’t know what is really going on in there,” he said. A spokesman from Latham’s office confirmed that he made the call, but declined to speak about the matter further.
There were three other congressmen taken off committees by the GOP leadership: Rep. Walter Jones (R -N.C.) and Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.) were taken off the Financial Services Committee and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was also taken off the Budget Committee.
Latham told Huelskamp that he advocated for his request to remain on the Budget and Agriculture committees, he said.
“I took him at his word, there was no reason to think otherwise—I was not in that meeting and I had not heard from anybody about exactly who argued on which way or anything,” he said.
The conversation was difficult, but Latham played it in a straight-forward manner, he said.
“He didn’t say he drew the short straw, but I recognize that there are tough calls to make, we’ve all had to make calls like that,” he said. Latham told him he would not return to the two committees and asked Huelskamp if he had any other committee requests.
“I asked him what occurred, and he said: ‘I can’t tell you, that’s a secret, those discussions were behind closed doors we are not privy to say,’ so, I didn’t follow up,” he said. “It was quickly done and that was the conversation.”
Usually, the regional representative is asked by a congressman to help with switching a committee assignment or adding an addition one, the congressman said.
The chairwoman of the House Republican Conference is Washington State’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, who led the Dec. 5 meeting Huelskamp said he attended to find out what happened.
“We had 150 to 200 colleagues there,” he said. “You walk in, get a 30-minutes worth of updates from various leadership folks, then you have a little video about whatever.”
When the Speaker, Ohio’s Rep. John A. Boehner, spoke he announced that there were four members of the conference who lost their committee assignments because of their voting record, he said.
“Clearly, the message was: ‘We’re going to take care of four people and the rest of you will see what that means,’” he said.
“The Speaker did indicate, as one of my colleagues put it: ‘There may be more,’” he said.
Boehner is getting the Republicans in line before he makes a deal to raise taxes with President Barack Obama, in order to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” he said.
Otherwise, there is no reason to tighten discipline, he said.
The only times the House GOP leadership had trouble collecting votes was when the leadership was advancing the liberal agenda in concert with the Democrats and the White House, he said. “That’s been the only times they have had trouble getting votes.”
When bills have been consistent with the conservative agenda, the leadership got overwhelming support from the conference with 235 to 240 of the conference’s 242 Republicans, he said.
The crackdown could be why other assignments are being held up.
Huelskamp said it is taking the GOP leadership an unusual amount of time to finalize committee assignments, which should have be done already, but will apparently take another week.
Latham called again for Huelskamp and left a message asking again if the Kansan had a preference for other committees, he said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him again.” Huelskamp flew home.
If his stand on taxes and spending cost him his slot on the budget panel, his opposition to the currently debated five-year farm bill cost him his slot on the agriculture panel, he said.
“I was one of four members of the committee, who voted ‘No,’” he said.
Although it is describes as a “farm bill,” 80 percent of the spending is for the Food Stamps program, he said.
The loss of his seat on the Agriculture is particularly hurtful to the congressman because of the tradition associated with Kansas-1, or “The Big First,” he said. The district, which makes up more than half of the state has been represented by other Republicans such as former Sen. Bob Dole, current Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and former Rep. Keith Sebelius, the late father-in-law to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “It is a long tradition of serving on the AG committee.”
In addition, as a fifth generation farmer, there are few members of Congress who have the background Huelskamp brings to agriculture issues, he said. The congressman, who earned his PhD in political science at American University in Washington D.C., wrote his doctoral dissertation farm the mechanics and politics of farm legislation.
“I don’t think you could find a more perfect fit the district and my passion, my academic background and my life experience,” he said.