Conservative rips Appropriations chairman over no vote on tax reform

Conservative rips Appropriations chairman over no vote on tax reform
© Greg Nash

A top conservative House leader said Thursday he had “real problems” with powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (R-N.J.) voting against the GOP tax-reform bill but stopped short of calling for him to relinquish his committee gavel.

In an interview with The Hill, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he had serious concerns about Frelinghuysen’s vote just as he begins negotiations on a massive spending package needed to avert a government shutdown on Dec. 8.

Frelinghuysen, a top Democratic target in 2018, was the only one out of 21 House GOP committee chairs to cast a no vote.

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“It’s going to be an issue and I’m raising it right now. I don’t know how to handle it at this point, but I don’t think when we get back here in a week and a half I’m just going to look the other way,” Walker said after the House passed the sweeping tax-reform bill.

“This is a committee chairman who’s going to be pitching some kind of spending thing,” Walker continued, “and if you can’t get on board and support one of the promises we’ve made to the American people, I have real problems with that.”

A GOP source close to Frelinghuysen said the chairman is not concerned he will face consequences from colleagues for his no vote and has not been asked by GOP leaders to step down.

His no vote “was cleared by leadership in advance,” the source said.

Frelinghuysen was one of nine GOP lawmakers from New York or New Jersey who voted against the bill. All of the members had complained that the tax bill’s elimination of a tax deduction for state and local income and sales taxes, as well as a $10,000 limit on deductions for local property taxes, would disproportionately hurt their constituencies.

“Everyone has to vote their district,” Rep. Markwayne MullinMarkwayne MullinCongress must protect kidney disease patients during the COVID-19 pandemic Georgia strengthens democracy, moves closer to NATO with US support Five takeaways from PPP loan data MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the vote-counting whip team, said of Frelinghuysen’s no vote.

He said it was not a surprise and that the Appropriations chairman had informed the whip team he could not vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Leaders didn’t need Frelinghuysen’s vote; they rounded up 227 votes in favor of the tax bill, 10 more than what was needed to pass it.

But there is an unspoken rule in the GOP conference that committee chairs, especially leaders of an “A” committee like Frelinghuysen, vote with the team on important votes like tax reform.

Still, Frelinghuysen’s no vote rubbed Walker the wrong way.

Asked if Frelinghuysen needs to resign from his chairmanship, Walker replied: “I’m not going to go as far as saying that, but I’m beginning to talk to other members that I have trusted relationships with.”

Walker said one member of Frelinghuysen’s Appropriations panel already spoke to him on the House floor Thursday and voiced frustration with the chairman’s no vote on tax reform.

“So we’re gonna see what kind of bandwidth there is,” Walker said.

The third-ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, conservative Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtLobbying world The Hill's Coronavirus Report: WHO vs. Trump; Bernie's out Bottom line MORE (R-Ala.), offered some support for Frelinghuysen.

“I can’t speak for how other members vote,” Aderholt told The Hill as he descended the steps of the Capitol. “New Jersey is different from Alabama.”

Frelinghuysen, first elected to Congress in 1994, could face a difficult reelection next year. In his affluent suburban New Jersey district, President Trump only beat Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE by less than 1 percentage point, and Democrats are feeling bullish about retaking control of the House after they trounced Republicans in last week's elections in Virginia.

Earlier this year, the chairman came out against the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, but he flipped his position to yes after some arm-twisting by leadership.

In a statement on his no vote on the tax bill, Frelinghuysen said the elimination of the state and local tax deductions would “hurt New Jersey families who already pay some of the highest income and property taxes in the nation.”

He also took aim at reduced mortgage interest deductions, which he said would erode property values in New Jersey, as well as the elimination of the medical expense deduction.

“In fact, I was looking forward to voting for legislation that creates jobs, increases paychecks, reinforces fairness and expands the economy here at home, while strengthening America’s competitiveness around the world,” Frelinghuysen said.

“However, I simply could not support the legislation due to very negative impacts it would have on so many of my fellow New Jerseyans.”

All but one of the 13 Republicans who voted against the tax bill hailed from New Jersey, New York and California, the three high-taxing states whose residents would be most harmed by the elimination of the state and local tax deduction.