House GOP leaders get heat from rank and file ahead of debt vote

House Republicans want to embarrass President Obama with a vote on the debt ceiling this week, but they could get some heartburn courtesy of rank-and-file conservatives.

House Republicans on Wednesday will vote to disapprove a request by Obama to add $1.2 trillion to the $15.2 trillion debt. The vote affords an opportunity to highlight multiple trillion-dollar deficits under the president’s leadership.

Some conservatives members are angry, however, that the vote, like an earlier debt-ceiling increase in September, has no teeth, and plan to give leaders a piece of their mind upon returning Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
Under the terms of the August debt-ceiling deal, the debt will increase unless the Senate and Obama go along with the House disapproval, and that is never going to happen.

Conservative GOP members say the debt-ceiling vote is just a reminder of a failure in August to get on a path to a balanced budget and comes just after leaders botched a payroll tax fight with the White House.

The House GOP drew a line in the sand in December and refused to approve a two-month payroll tax cut extension. After voting down that measure, arguing that only a yearlong deal was acceptable, and sending rank-and-file members home, leaders eventually conceded the fight and passed the White House-backed bill by unanimous consent.

“The deal we cut in August: that’s a joke,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said, adding it is just a fig leaf for some Republicans to say they are against more debt even though they essentially approved it in August.

“I do have some anger with my own leadership. … The Republican establishment was just as misleading about a default as the Democrats,” he said.

Mulvaney said a number of conservative members are frustrated and plan to express that to leaders this week.

“I know that I am not alone,” he said.

He said some members were so angry in December they wrote down their thoughts to remember them when Congress comes back this week.

“Every time we pushed, we gave up,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said, giving a tough assessment to the budget battles of 2011.

He said Republicans who voted for the August deal should not vote against the debt-ceiling increase now and claim credit for being against it. The August debt deal got 174 GOP “yes” votes and 66 “no” votes.

Huelskamp said he planned to raise his points in a caucus meeting and wants leadership to avoid squandering future opportunities to squeeze the White House into cutting the budget.

“The opportunities are few and far between,” he said.

Huelskamp said the House budget resolution is the next chance to demand that spending be brought down below the August debt-ceiling deal level.

Mulvaney said he is not angry with GOP leaders for agreeing to the two-month payroll tax extension. He is angry that the rank and file were told to go to their districts to fight against a two-month extension only to have leaders change their minds and inform the caucus on a one-way conference call.

“It is sort of like you are a solider on the battlefield and you turn around and your generals were gone,” he said.

“I am not going to question their integrity, but given how it was done it would lead a reasonable person to conclude that this was the plan all along,” Mulvaney said.

Huelskamp said the way leadership handled rank and file in late December “breeds distrust.” He said the vote on the $1 trillion omnibus was rushed, too.

He said during recess his constituents told him there is a pox on both parties and that he believes it is “hard to convince them there has been much difference” between the two sides.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he will take to the House floor to express his dissatisfaction at the GOP for making concessions and that he shares the frustration of freshmen like Mulvaney and Huelskamp.

“I have had the same complaints all along. With the current-year budget … as soon as you indicate we are not going to shut the government down you have given away your leverage. When you say you will extend the payroll tax no matter what, you give away your leverage,” Flake said.

“I don’t think we have been in the strongest negotiation position.”

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said tensions in the caucus are high ahead of the debt vote.

“Clearly those members who were out there talking the message are frustrated,” he said. “They left one day and leaders said ‘this is our message’ and then it wasn’t the message.”

Garrett said that because of the way the payroll tax was handled, the GOP has lost negotiating leverage to get budget cuts.

“I think we are going to find ourselves in a much more difficult position than we need to be come February,” he said.

Payroll tax conferees are aiming to hammer out a full-year extension of the tax holiday by the end of February, but the sides are far apart on how to pay for the tax break.

Garrett said he is frustrated with the pace of budget cuts and said the debt-ceiling disapproval vote is a “contrived mechanism.” He noted that it had been the brainchild of Senate Republicans.

He said the vote will give conservative Republican Study Committee members the chance to call attention to the fact that they want deeper cuts to the deficit than those agreed to in the August debt-ceiling deal.

The RSC in the coming weeks will be unveiling its budget proposal, which Garrett is coordinating, to bring spending down immediately below $1 trillion next year. Under the August deal, the 2013 spending cap currently stands at $1.047 trillion.