Boehner Disappoints Conservatives on Spending Bill

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

Conservatives expressed deep disappointment with their new leader last week following a procedural vote on a $91.8-billion spending bill to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina recovery. Members of the conservative House Republican Study Committee (RSC) had hoped to offset the new spending with unused government funds, but GOP leaders blocked the plan.

It was Boehner’s first big vote since being elected leader, and although he won, 218 to 200, he needed 22 Democrats to do it.  In the process, 29 RSC members broke ranks, and several congressmen told Human Events they were displeased with the turn of events.

“I think House conservatives were profoundly disappointed that members were not given the opportunity to vote for an amendment that would offset even a portion of this enormous supplemental spending bill,” RSC Chairman Mike Pence told Human Events. “There were several aspects of this bill where the rules were waived to increase spending. It would be a refreshing change to see our leadership team be willing to waive the rules to cut spending.”

Spearheading opposition to the plan were Representatives John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.), who ran against Boehner for leader, and Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.).

Hensarling and Shadegg 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.

“Many of us felt that at a minimum we should offset all of the hurricane supplemental or at least some of the hurricane spending,” Shadegg told Human Events. “And I think it was a mistake on the part of leadership not to allow an amendment to offset at least a portion of the spending on the hurricane supplemental.”

Hensarling also wanted 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 combined 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. “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 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 told Human Events. “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.”

But Boehner sent a mixed signal at a press briefing last Tuesday, when a reporter bluntly asked him: “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.”

Pence said the RSC doesn’t view last week’s vote as a setback. He said the fact that 29 conservatives (see Capital Briefs, Page 4) broke ranks was a significant accomplishment—and it sends GOP leaders a strong message that they won’t toe the party line.