Conservatives fear they’re being pushed aside by Republican leaders as the party looks to regroup from its election losses.
“At the end of the day we lost seats in the House, we lost seats in the Senate, we couldn’t win the presidency, and the response is to purge conservatives,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said Tuesday during a briefing at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
Huelskamp is one of four Republicans who were stripped of committee seats this week for bucking leadership over the last term. Huelskamp lost his spot on the Budget Committee, where he voted against the House GOP’s budget last year along with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who also was removed this week. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Walter Jones (R-NC), who also voted against the budget from the right [Update: Jones actually opposed its Medicare changes] , lost seats on the Financial Services Committee.
“It confirms, in my mind, the deepest suspicions of most Americans about Washington, D.C.,” Huelskamp said. “It’s petty, its vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles you will be punished for articulating those.”
Amash, speaking at the same briefing, said he had not received any personal messages or phone calls from leadership announcing his demotion. But he attributed his calls for reduced military spending as the most likely cause for the conflict.
“I think they are willing to raise taxes to avoid any defense cuts,” Amash said. “I think they’re willing to take really bad deals to avoid any defense cuts of even a few dollars.”
The decision to demote several popular conservative representatives could heighten tensions between House leaders and right-wing activists, a relationship that’s already under pressure during fiscal cliff negotiations.
“This is establishment thinking, circling the wagons around yes-men and punishing anyone that dares to take a stand for good public policy,” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe (whose group has its own internal issues this week) said in a statement.
FreedomWorks and other tea party organizers and lawmakers have condemned Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) this week for including revenues in his opening bid to avert the fiscal cliff. A number of Republicans have suggested the GOP go further and end its resistance to letting the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners expire in order to move on to other fights.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) tweeted on Tuesday that “Speaker Boehner’s offer of an $800 billion tax hike will destroy jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more.”
Staff at the Heritage Foundation savaged the proposal as well, accusing GOP leaders of being too weak on taxes and too timid in proposing major entitlement cuts.
“At first blush, it appears little more than categorical, pre-emptive capitulation,” Heritage Foundation experts Alison Acosta Fraser and J.D. Foster wrote in a blog post. They went on to describe Boehner’s offer as “bad policy, bad economics, and, if we may say so, highly questionable as a negotiating tactic.”
In theory, Boehner might benefit from ongoing conflicts on the right as they make his own proposals appear more moderate. But if he can’t credibly promise his own party’s votes in a final deal, the White House is likely to greet his negotiations with far greater skepticism and GOP messaging will be splintered if a deal falls apart. Considering that the top policy item on Congress’ agenda after the fiscal cliff is immigration reform, another highly contentious issue on the right, GOP leaders are likely to be under heavy pressure from the base throughout the next year.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.