Club for Growth: Fiscal cliff vote won't be sole gauge of support or challenge

The powerful fiscally conservative Club for Growth won't look for primary challengers to the 85 Republicans who backed the bill to avoid the "fiscal cliff" solely because of that vote, the group's head told The Hill on Wednesday.

"We do 25 or so key votes per session and this will be one of those," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said, pointing out that some staunch conservatives, including former Club for Growth President Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), voted for the fiscal-cliff deal.

"We tend to not make decisions not based on one vote," he said. "This will contribute to the pattern but it won't be the only factor in any decision."

ADVERTISEMENT
The group has played a big role in defeating a number of Republicans in House and Senate primaries, most recently spending millions of dollars to help Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) defeat outgoing Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) last year and help incoming Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) win his primary over a better-funded opponent. It was also very active during the 2011 debt-ceiling debate.

Chocola called the fiscal-cliff vote a "big deal" and expressed frustration with the final package, especially the spending component, and complained that no Republican "offered a proactive solution." But he repeatedly pivoted to discussing the looming debt ceiling, which needs to be raised by February to avoid governmental default, a sign he and the group see that vote as the bigger battle.

The former congressman conceded that the "unique situation" of tax cuts expiring put Republicans in a weaker negotiating position, and took some blame for not pushing, while in Congress last decade, to make the cuts permanent, saying the temporary nature of the tax cuts was a "big mistake." But he said that any excuses Republicans had for backing this bill are gone on the debt ceiling.

"The Republicans, they can say they were in a tough position on this one, but they can't say that about the debt ceiling. They have all the leverage in the world on that — they just have to use it," he said. "We plan on being active with the debt ceiling. It's not that complicated of a discussion — it's 'Do you want more or less debt?' "