By Russell Berman and Erik Wasson - 11/14/12 12:14 AM EST
House conservatives returned to Washington on Tuesday determined to hang tough on taxes and spending in the face of a new post-election fiscal dynamic.
With President Obama winning reelection handily, Republican lawmakers are viewing the coming negotiations on the fiscal cliff with anxiety, unsure how much party leaders will ask them to give up to strike an agreement.
Rank-and-file conservatives have thus far stood by House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) approach, but few are willing to commit specifically to immediate revenue increases in a deal that has yet to be brokered. Boehner has said Republicans are opposed to tax-rate increases but could accept new revenue through tax reform if it is coupled with spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.
“I have seen nothing so far that is inconsistent with my principles, yet,” freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said.
House Republicans will meet on Wednesday for the first time since the election, with leaders expected to lay out plans for the lame-duck session and open the floor for members to offer their interpretation of last week’s results.
Conservatives will also face a pair of tests in leadership elections this week. On Wednesday, House Republicans will choose between Reps. Tom Price (Ga.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) for the post of conference chairman, the fourth-ranking position in the leadership.
Price, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), has the backing of leading conservative Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Jeb Hensarling (Texas), while McMorris Rodgers is supported by a majority of committee chairmen and members of the elected leadership team.
On Thursday, members of the RSC will elect either Rep. Tom Graves (Ga.) or Steve Scalise (La.) as their chairman for the next two years. Graves, the hand-picked choice of the committee’s founders, is expected to take an approach that could lead to more conflict with the party leadership.
The decisions come amid a broader debate about the future of the Republican Party in the wake of a disappointing election that saw the GOP keep its majority in the House but lose out on its goals of recapturing the White House and the Senate.
“Our policies aren’t wrong. Our rhetoric has too much of an edge,” said freshman Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), who is expected to join leadership next year as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.
Lankford pointed to what Republicans see as a dual mandate from the voters: for Obama and for the reelected GOP majority in the House. “We’re in almost an identical position to where we were a month ago,” he said.
As talks heat up over the expiring George W. Bush-era tax rates and $109 billion in scheduled spending cuts, conservatives have rallied around a position that any revenue increases should not increase the net “tax burden” on payers and that some spending cuts replacing those from sequestration must fall in the near term to count as real.
“I want to see the package, if it is an increase in the tax burden,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), outgoing chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Jordan said that revenue in later years, from dynamic scoring that takes into account economic growth from tax-rate cuts, would be acceptable. The Congressional Budget Office generally does not use projections of economic growth in its scoring of the deficit impact of tax proposals.
Jordan said he does not support increases that are “scored statically to be increased revenue in the first year.”
Lankford said he is “consistent” with Boehner’s position on revenues, but he wouldn’t identify how far he might be willing to go. “I’m really not jumping into that,” he replied when asked whether he could support legislation that increased overall revenue to the government.
On spending, Jordan and Mulvaney said that they would rather see the sequester go into effect than kick the can down the road and avoid cuts in the short term.
“Personally, I’m scared they do not make any cuts,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said. “I fear a possible compromise that does not address our problems.”
Boehner has already taken fire from conservatives worried that his talk about “revenues” is an early sign of capitulation. Conservative Red State blogger Erick Erickson wrote on Tuesday that House Republicans should consider replacing Boehner with Ryan, the party’s vice presidential nominee.
“House Republicans are being badly served by John Boehner,” Erickson wrote. “[They] should think very carefully if the faux-tanned face of John Boehner is the face they want for their party in the next two years. They should consider Paul Ryan as their Speaker.”
With Boehner’s election on Wednesday a foregone conclusion, Erickson’s wish is unlikely to become reality.
“I haven’t heard of anyone saying they are challenging Boehner,” Mulvaney said.