Calif. Republican emerges as leader of GOP budget hawks

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) has emerged as a leader of deficit hardliners in the House and become a thorn in the side of GOP leaders.

While McClintock does not criticize other Republicans by name, he is clearly dissatisfied with the amount of spending cuts House Republicans have achieved since winning the majority in 2010.

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“This government doesn’t spend money unless the House authorizes it. We are more than a year into a period where we have controlled the House and we are a trillion dollars deeper in debt,” he told The Hill in an interview. “The buck starts here. We can’t blame the president.”

McClintock, who has been in the House since 2008, led the 93-member defection against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank this month with an impassioned floor speech.

“Legitimate companies have plenty of access to private capital, they don’t need these subsidies. The illegitimate ones don’t need to be propped up with the hard-earned dollars of working taxpayers,” McClintock said on the floor. 

The Ex-Im bill was negotiated by House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorTrump taps pollster to push back on surveys showing Biden with double-digit lead Bottom Line The Democrats' strategy conundrum: a 'movement' or a coalition? MORE (R-Va.), who supports ending export credits but compromised with Democrats to extend the bank for three more years. In one concession won by Cantor, the bill for the first time orders the administration to begin international talks to end export financing.

That wasn’t enough to sway McClintock, however. He argued that, although the bank turns a profit, it could one day blow up in taxpayers’ faces like Fannie Mae.

McClintock was also one of 10 defectors on the Small Business Tax Cut act, H.R. 9, which passed the House in April by a 235-173 vote.

The bill gives a 20 percent tax break to any business with fewer than 500 employees, but following House GOP rules, the tax cut was not offset, meaning it would add to the deficit.

McClintock argued that tax cuts must be offset with spending cuts.

"Tax cuts without either spending reductions or real economic growth are an illusion," he said at the time.

McClintock also organized 43 other members into sending a letter to GOP leaders this month demanding that the 12 appropriations bills be moved through the chamber individually.

On that front, McClintock is making progress. He told The Hill Friday that leaders responded favorably to the letter, and while they might still resort to packaging the bills together, they are allowing crucial amendments to come up on the floor.

One of the biggest fights over federal spending could come next year, when Congress will need to increase the debt ceiling. House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Bottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future MORE (R-Ohio) warned President Obama this week that he would not accept a debt-ceiling increase that isn’t paired with bigger spending cuts.

But McClintock said he remains skeptical that the House will be able to make deep enough cuts in the next showdown.

“[BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Bottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future MORE’s] speech was very good. The question is, does he mean the same kind of agreement that was adopted as the Budget Control Act? The problem is the cut in the English sense of the word doesn’t translate very well into Washington-ese,” he said.

McClintock said that allowing immediate debt increases to be offset by spending cuts down the road is wrong. The Budget Control Act raised the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion, but imposed that amount of cuts over 10 years.

“What they actually did, the few cuts they made wouldn’t take place until 2017, while the debt increase all happened immediately,” McClintock said. 

House leadership offices did not respond to request for comment on McClintock’s stands. Aides have said in the past that controlling “one half of one third of government” means that the GOP does face constraints in achieving all its policy goals before the election.

McClintock is demur when asked if he is emerging as a budget leader in the House. He gives more credit to Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for his efforts.

Before coming to Congress, McClintock was known as a maverick budget hawk in the California state Assembly who wasn’t afraid to take on the party establishment. He ran against Arnold Schwarzenegger to try to replace Gray Davis as governor in the 2003 recall election.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist compared McClintock to Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.), whose lonely anti-earmark crusade led to a temporary earmark ban and gave him a high profile ahead of his Senate race this year.

Norquist said ATR applauded McClintock’s stand on the Ex-Im Bank.

“This is exactly the sort of thing we can turn into a movement,” he said. “When someone like McClintock is doing it, you know it is serious.”

He said members like McClintock will be especially important if Mitt Romney wins the White House. In the past, Norquist said, GOP congressional leaders have looked the other way when Republican presidents strayed on spending.

Norquist disagrees with McClintock, however, about the small business tax cut and the Budget Control Act. He said that enforceable cuts over 10 years can work to shrink the government.

“Termites don’t eat your house all at once,” he said.

On the small business bill, Norquist said his group does not believe tax cuts need to be offset with spending cuts, although such a situation is preferable.

“That is ice cream with sprinkles!” he said. “If you don’t have sprinkles, though, you can still have ice cream.”