Conservatives look to balance Grassley

Conservatives are urging Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSanders is a risk, not a winner Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way MORE to appoint one of their own to the Senate Finance Committee, hoping to counter Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMcSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE’s (R-Iowa) tendency to compromise with Democrats.

Far-right voices in the party, on and off Capitol Hill, fear Grassley, the highest-ranking Republican on Finance, is prone to strike deals not to their liking on an array of issues.

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The call comes as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the chamber’s most conservative members, is staging a campaign for a seat on the committee and wants Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) to give less weight to seniority when choosing who sits there.

Finance is considered the most powerful domestic policy-setting committee in the Senate, with jurisdiction over taxes, trade, healthcare and Social Security.

President-elect Obama and Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBaucus backing Biden's 2020 bid Bottom line Overnight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms MORE (D-Mont.), the committee chairman, would like to pass landmark healthcare reform and Grassley, one of the chamber’s foremost experts on healthcare, has a history of working with Baucus.

“There need to be conservative members of our caucus on that committee, there’s no question,” said Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnOvernight Energy: Experts criticize changes to EPA lead, copper rule | House panel looks into plan to limit powers of EPA science advisers | Senate bill aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 Trump budget proposal funds financially struggling museum in Reagan's childhood home The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach MORE (R-Okla.), who cited upcoming debates on healthcare and taxes. “If you look at Medicare and Medicaid and nationalizing healthcare you’re talking about 60 percent of our economy handled by one committee.”

Grassley proudly boasts of his ability to forge bipartisan compromise.

“Every bill that has gotten out of committee except for one when I was chairman was a bipartisan bill and every bill that got out of committee when Sen. Baucus was chairman was a bipartisan bill,” said Grassley in an interview. “So over an eight-year period of time all but one bill was a bipartisan bill.”

Centrists on the committee have long caused Republican leaders heartburn. When Republicans controlled the chamber, an effort by GOP leaders to attach an estate tax cut to pension-overhaul legislation stalled because of opposition from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) was another member of Finance prone to side with Democrats on crucial votes.

There are two vacancies on Finance because Smith and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), another member of the panel, lost reelection. Democrats are expected to cut one of the GOP seats on Finance to reflect the expanded majority in the chamber.

DeMint is chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, a group organized for the purpose of advocating conservative principles within the GOP conference.

“I think there is concern that Sen. Grassley is more predisposed to compromising with Democrats and Baucus on tax issues and healthcare and other issues that will be important,” said Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “It’s important to balance that off with somebody on the committee who can push the debate to the right.”

Some supply-side economic conservatives were dismayed when Grassley introduced a 2007 bill with Baucus to boost taxes for publicly traded equity firms. The legislation would have taxed publicly traded partnerships at nearly double their current rate.

“Chuck Grassley’s compromise on taxation on carried interest was horrible last year,” said Andrew Roth, director of government affairs at the Club for Growth, in reference to a proposed tax increase on the income of private equity and hedge fund managers. The fiscally conservative group advocates for lower taxes.

“We need someone who can tie an anchor at the fiscal-conservative end of this committee and I think Jim DeMint is the guy,” said Roth.

“Senate Republicans as a caucus are not as conservative as House Republicans. All eyes are going to be on them and Grassley in particular when it comes to taxes.”

A Grassley aide said Roth mischaracterized the proposed tax increase on publicly traded equity firms, noting the legislation would have closed a loophole benefiting some hedge funds but would not have amounted to a broad change of tax policy such as raising taxes on carried-interest income.

{mospagebreak}Grassley declined to respond to these complaints specifically but he emphasized that the times he has struck deals with Democrats, he did so with a majority of the Republican members on Finance.

“When I work on a bipartisan basis I work with a majority of the Republicans, too,” he said.

Other Republican members on Finance are rankled by claims that they need DeMint on the panel to enforce conservative principles.

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“What do they think I am? I’m one of the original supply-siders and I haven’t changed my philosophy,” said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock MORE (Utah), the second-ranking Republican on Finance. “We have some really outstanding conservatives on there but we just may not be making noise about it.”

Hatch said Grassley, “like any ranking member, wants to make his committee work and there are going to be times to get anything done you’re going to have to work with the majority. … This is a place where compromise is part of the process.”

“Grassley is a very rock-ribbed conservative, let me tell you,” said Hatch, who added that McConnell should base the Finance appointment on seniority or perhaps face rancor within the GOP conference.

One Republican senator said a conservative such as DeMint would “definitely” have an impact on Finance, even if he would join the panel as its most junior member.

“We want to make sure we have solid fiscal conservatives, not just from my perspective, but on the Appropriations and Finance committees,” said the senator, who declined to speak on the record for fear of angering his centrist-leaning colleagues. “It would be very helpful to get those strong on tax and spending policy on the committee.”

Conservatives who want to see DeMint or another conservative firebrand on Finance say it could give Grassley leverage in negotiations with Democrats. They say Grassley could decline some proposals as unacceptable to the most conservative members of his committee.

 “We’ve seen on the Republican side a tendency to go along and obligate taxpayers for too much,” said Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), an outspoken House conservative, in reference to GOP members of Finance who have worked with Democrats. “DeMint would help equalize the equation.”