Cardinals to Boehner: Crack whip

Livid Republican appropriators will press Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders this week to crack the whip in the wake of mass defections on a high-profile spending bill.

Unless there are ramifications for the recalcitrant Republicans, appropriators claim, Democrats will hold a lot of the negotiating cards in the upcoming negotiations on a year-end omnibus bill.

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Senior members of the Appropriations Committee told The Hill that they plan to meet with GOP leadership, in part, to vent their frustrations that “their legs were cut out” on the “minibus” bill that hit the floor before Thanksgiving.

The Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Housing minibus measure attracted an eyebrow-raising 101 Republican “no” votes — including two members of GOP leadership, Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Policy Chairman Tom Price (Ga.).

The legislation passed easily, though largely because of Democratic votes, and subsequently was signed into law.

The dynamic caused by the defections, GOP appropriators say, gives Democrats the upper hand on the anticipated omnibus spending bill in December. That legislation is expected to include the nine pending appropriations bills and could incorporate a variety of tax, energy and healthcare provisions.

At a time when congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low, GOP leaders should be encouraging a team mentality, the lawmakers said.

“Nobody gives their votes away here for free around here. It just strengthens the Democrats in every negotiation going forward,” said a GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity, adding that “we’ve got some people who need to learn Politics 101. It either hasn’t been explained to them or they haven’t felt the need to play team ball. We don’t discipline much around here anymore.”

The Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, or “cardinals,” met the day following the “disastrous” vote to make sure that the full committee chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), “raised hell” with Boehner in person. Congress was not in last week, and adjourned soon after the minibus cleared the House and Senate.

“Hensarling votes against it, Price votes against it, two deputy whips vote against it, 101 Republicans. I mean, that’s not [Reps.] Jeff Flake [R-Ariz.] and Ron Paul [R-Texas] … and the leadership’s view is, ‘So what? We’ve got 218 with the Dems.’ Well, that’s not healthy,” a cardinal told The Hill.

The lawmaker noted that senior GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Kevin Brady (Texas) and Ed Royce (Calif.), voted for the debt deal this summer, but opposed the minibus. The caps in the debt agreement were consistent with the minibus.

Royce explained that the lack of offsets accounted for his “no” vote on the minibus.

The “[Congressional Budget Office] predicts yet another trillion-dollar budget deficit for fiscal year 2012, yet Congress couldn’t find $2.3 billion to offset the new emergency funding in the minibus? Let’s hope this precedent doesn’t stick.”

House Republican leaders have tried this year to instill more discipline in their conference, but with few results. Boehner directed his GOP colleagues to “get your ass in line” on a debt-limit bill. Lacking the votes two days later, he pulled the bill from the floor.

On other occasions, Boehner and his lieutenants have needed Democratic votes to pass controversial bills, such as the legislation that averted the government shutdown last spring.

A handful of senior House GOP appropriators agreed to discuss the matter with The Hill on the condition of anonymity, in order to speak freely without fear of retribution.

With 165 Democrats voting yes, and only 133 GOP House members supporting the package, appropriators say the disparity sends the wrong signal when Republicans want to add controversial labor, healthcare and environmental riders to the omnibus.

“When I see guys at the deputy whip table not voting for it, how about a little discipline around here? When the Democrats put more votes on the floor for an agreement than we do, and we’re in the majority?” a GOP lawmaker said.

The exasperated members, who are a reliable voting bloc for leadership, have told colleagues they are “tired of it,” according to a Republican appropriator 

“They feel like, ‘Well, we’re doing the work, these guys vote no, and they make us look bad when we go home, and are out there grandstanding at our expense.’ ”

The lawmaker pointed to Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a lead negotiator for House Republicans on the minibus: “He was the only guy from Georgia who voted for that bill — every other Republican in his delegation voted against that bill, every other one — and that’s just wrong. He’s a deficit hawk, he’s a senior appropriator, he’s a reformer, he knows what he’s doing — he deserves better support than that from the people in his state.”

Kingston told The Hill that he’s concerned that Democrats have enhanced power because of the Nov. 17 vote. 

“As we negotiated these last three bills, we went into it with a fairly strong position and it was really House Republicans and Senate Democrats that drove the train, but as we go into the next nine bills — now — it’s going to be House Democrats at the table in a major way because we have to have their votes to pass the bill, and they know that and we know that,” Kingston said, predicting that “sticky issues” such as contentious riders restricting the power of the Obama administration will likely get tabled. 

Spokesmen for Hensarling, Price and Brady did not comment for this article. Leadership staffers also did not comment.