House Conservatives Are Disappointed After Boehner's First Big Vote as Leader

The honeymoon between House conservatives and Majority Leader John Boehner (R.-Ohio) is over.

Conservatives expressed deep disappointment Wednesday following a procedural vote on a $91.8 billion spending bill to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina recovery. They had hoped to offset the new spending with unused government funds, but GOP leaders blocked the plan.

On his first big vote since being elected majority leader, Boehner avoided embarrassment when the GOP won, 218-200. But in the process, 29 conservative Republican Study Committee members bucked their party leadership, and according to several Capitol Hill aides who spoke to HUMAN EVENTS, those members are very much displeased with Boehner. (See who opposed the bill below.)

“He cut off the hand that fed him,” lamented one senior House aide, referring to the support conservatives gave Boehner last month when he won his post as GOP leader.

“The bottom line is that they’re allowing votes on amendments that increase spending,” the aide said. “But they’re not allowing votes on amendments that decrease spending.”

Leading the opposition to the plan were Reps. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), the RSC’s chairman, and Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.), who has taken a lead role on spending issues. Pence and Hensarling unveiled the RSC’s “alternative budget” last week, drawing widespread praise from conservatives.

Hensarling tried to offer an amendment before the House Rules Committee that would have offset the entire $91.8 billion supplemental with unobligated funds—money the Bush Administration won’t spend in 2006.

Hensarling also wanted House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) to split the two requests: $67.6 billion for funding the troops and $19.1 billion for hurricane recovery. But Lewis chose to combine them, leaving Republicans few options to strip what they view as wasteful spending included in the hurricane recovery bill.

“House conservatives made it clear these two supplemental requests should be considered separately on their own merits,” Hensarling said. “I am very disappointed we were also denied the opportunity to offer our offset amendment. The House repeatedly waives the rules to spend money, but they hardly ever waive the rules to save money.”

Ultimately, it was Boehner’s decision, along with other members of the House Republican leadership, to put forth a bill that will add nearly $100 billion to the government’s burden without any offsets.

Boehner spokesman Kevin Madden defended his boss. He said the majority leader supports the RSC’s efforts to reduce wasteful spending.

“Mr. Boehner worked together with many members of the conference about various concerns,” Madden said. “And, of course it’s very important to Mr. Boehner that there be an ongoing dialogue about reforms to cut wasteful spending and the RSC’s role in realizing that goal.”

During a press briefing with reporters Tuesday, Boehner responded to questions about the conservatives’ attempt to restore fiscal prudence.

“I am for reducing spending,” Boehner said in response to a question about the RSC’s plan to require offsets. “There hadn’t been a discussion yet about their proposal in the leadership, and depending upon how they go about it, there is a question about whether it is germane to the process.”

Over the next 22 hours, the House GOP leadership, under Boehner’s direction, thwarted Hensarling’s plan to offset the entire supplemental spending request. (He is unable to offer it on the House floor because of rules about appropriations bills that I won’t even try to explain.)

At yesterday’s press briefing, a reporter bluntly asked Boehner: “But if efforts by the Republican Study Committee to reduce spending get defeated, what is the message that goes out to the conservatives who you would be counting on in this year’s election?”

Boehner’s response: “I don’t know.”

Conservatives in the House haven’t given up hope entirely. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R.-Tex.) has introduced an amendment that would separate the two spending bills. Neugebauer said the measures deserved to be debated independently on the House floor.

“Fighting the War on Terror and rebuilding the Gulf Coast are two different issues and deserve to be considered on their own merits,” Neugebauer said. “Doing so will allow Congress to remove any funding that is not truly critical or that is unrelated to these two emergencies.”

House Republicans Voting ‘No’

Davis, Jo Ann
Franks (AZ)
Garrett (NJ)
Green (WI)
Jones (NC)
King (IA)
Lungren, Daniel E.
Ryan (WI)
Ryun (KS)