Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) may have finally gone too far betraying conservatives. This past week, he removed three conservative Republican Congressmen from their committee positions in retaliation for not voting for his compromises on the budget with Democrats – compromises that led us to the current “fiscal cliff.” Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) was removed from the Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) were removed from the Budget Committee. All three were elected with strong Tea Party support.
An aide to GOP leadership said they were removed for “not being team players.” Anther aide admitted to Roll Call that it was done out of retaliation, “You want good things in Congress and to have a good career? Better play along nicely.” After removing the Congressmen, Boehner warned other members of Congress that he will be watching how they vote.
The three Congressmen opposed the Budget Control Act last year, which capitulated to the Democrats on big spending. The Act increased the debt ceiling by $400 billion, with the ability to increase it another $500 million to $1.5 trillion. 66 Republicans voted against it. A fourth Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who voted against the Budget Control Act, was also removed from the Financial Services Committee in retaliation.
Removing Amash and Huelskamp from the Budget Committee will make it easier for the committee to work out an agreement compromising with the Democrats on the fiscal cliff. Boehner proposed a counter-offer to the Democrats’ $1.6 trillion tax increase proposal that increases taxes by $800 billion and does nothing to reduce the $16 trillion deficit. It has been widely denounced by conservative groups and leaders, including Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who is leaving the Senate to head up the Heritage Foundation.
Matt Kibbe, president of Freedomworks, denounced the vindictive move, saying, “This is a clear attempt on the part of Republican leadership to punish those in Washington who vote the way they promised their constituents they would — on principle — instead of mindlessly rubber-stamping trillion-dollar deficits and the bankrupting of America.” In a letter to Boehner, Freedomworks asked that Boehner restore the three members of Congress to their committee positions.
The three Congressman are far more principled conservatives than Boehner. Schweikert’s rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU) last year was 96; Huelskamp scored 92, and Amash scored 91.67. Their ratings from the conservative organization Freedomworks were equally as high or higher. In contrast, Boehner’s lifetime ACU rating is only 89.81, and if he hadn’t been Speaker last year, which shielded him from most votes, his rating would have tanked even further.
Huelskamp denounced the retaliation at a Heritage Foundation luncheon on Tuesday, “It’s petty, its vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles you will be punished for articulating those.” He asked for a list of the votes that were used to reward or punish members, but was met with “stony silence” from leadership.
This maneuver by Boehner was just the latest of several betrayals of conservatives. In September 2011, Boehner tried to force House Republicans to vote in favor of a continuing resolution to fund government that included funding for Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, the United Nations Population Fund and the Palestinian Authority. 48 House conservatives joined 182 Democrats to defeat it. Boehner’s record in the House includes many votes hostile to taxpayers and conservatives, including voting for the TARP bailout of 2008.
The targeting of Schweikert is especially peculiar, since his voting was only a little out of line with leadership. During Schweikert’s first year in Congress, 2011, he voted with GOP leadership 93% of the time. Huelskamp voted with leadership 91% of the time and Amash 76% of the time. Huelskamp and Amash were the only GOP House members to vote against Paul Ryan’s budget plan this year, asserting that it didn’t cut spending enough. They also voted against the current continuing resolution that is funding the government through March.
Why weren’t other Congressmen who voted against House leadership as often as Schweikert removed from their committees? Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) voted with GOP leadership this past year 93% of the time, the same percentage as Schweikert, yet Franks wasn’t removed from the Armed Forces Committee. There is speculation that Schweikert was targeted because he defeated Boehner loyalist Ben Quayle (R-AZ) earlier this year when they were forced to run against each other in the same district due to redistricting. Unlike Schweikert, Quayle made sure to vote with leadership, or abstain from voting as instructed by leadership on big-spending bills.
Congressman Schweikert is one of the brightest and most articulate new members of Congress. He isn’t prone to making silly gaffes, nor has he been caught in some awkward incident. All three Congressmen were backed by the Club for Growth, a well-respected fiscal watchdog organization. If House leadership is going to target the most solid, stable conservatives in Congress, they have gone too far. It is difficult to find a principled, conservative Republican who hasn’t been damaged and rendered somewhat ineffective by the liberal media. Members of Congress like Schweikert represent the last hope for conservatives.
Members of Congress are elected to represent their districts, not the party establishment. The Republican Party may not be in complete lockstep agreement on every issue. But if it cannot agree on fiscal restraint, then it has lost its core ideology.
The Club for Growth warned that this could cost Boehner the speakership. The conservative blog Red State is calling to replace him, noting that only 16 House members are needed to abstain from voting for Boehner as speaker in order to oust him in January. American Majority Action started the hashtag #fireboehner on Twitter, labeling the purge of conservatives “the nail in the coffin.”
Boehner would be wise to remember the last time a Speaker of the House tangled with a conservative member of Congress from Arizona over compromising with Democrats. It didn’t work out so well for Newt Gingrich. That Arizona Congressman, Matt Salmon, is now returning to Congress, and together with Schweikert they might just pull off another coup.