Et tu, Boehner? House Speaker John Boehner is working feverishly to find common ground with President Obama to avert to coming fiscal cliff, but the GOP leadership may have an even bigger problem after it stripped four conservative lawmakers of key committee positions for not toeing the party line.
Now one lawmaker tells WND the targets of that decision are all fiscal conservatives who voted against rampant federal spending.
The decisions reportedly came from a Republican steering committee tasked with making committee assignments. The panel stripped Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., from the House Budget Committee. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., were given the boot from the House Financial Services Committee. Their specific transgressions aren't clear, but all four members voted against the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling, and three of them voted against the House GOP budget authored by Paul Ryan because they didn't think it brought the nation's finances into balance quickly enough.
In reality, the four members have not been told why they lost their committee assignments since no one has reached out to explain this decision.
"I was given no reason, none whatsoever," said Huelskamp, who was also stripped of a post on the House Agriculture Committee, ending more than 100 years of representatives from Kansas being on that panel. "It's just pure crass politics. It's petty and vindictive."
A further sign that these moves serve as a message to the rest of the conference to obey orders is the cryptic message from Boehner that he "hopes" more decisions like this will not have to be made.
"Clearly the removal was seen as a punishment, and then when the leadership says 'others may be at risk,' it's clearly meant as a warning," said Huelskamp. "You've got 240 votes currently in the Republican House – a good strong majority. Three or four votes does not make a difference, but you can use those three or four folks to warn the remainder of the conference."
The congressman said he hasn't heard one word from any of top House GOP leaders, and they have even avoided conversations with him on the House floor. But while there has been no official explanation for the committee changes, Huelskamp sees an eerie coincidence.
"The deal that the speaker intends to negotiate and finally present to Republicans is going to be one that's likely to violate the principle of not raising taxes," he said. "On Friday, I released a video. I meant it. On YouTube, you can find that where I reiterated my pledge to not raise taxes. Less than a business day later is when I got the phone call that 'you're off of the budget committee.'"
Huelskamp said the decision of the steering committee is not final and must be ratified by the full GOP delegation. He is also among the conservatives not pleased with the role of incoming Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise on the steering committee. The RSC is the coalition of House conservatives, and includes more than 50 percent of the Republicans in the House.
"Frankly, the steering committee that makes these decisions, Mr. Scalise is on there," said Huelskamp. "They had a litmus test. They had a list of key votes they used to make their decision. We are asking them to release that list of votes to the public and to the membership. So far they refuse to do that. They're apparently not courageous enough to indicate exactly how they made that decision. Actually, I haven't seen a member of leadership that's actually indicated what the reasons were and they haven't told me, either."
While the committee changes could be rejected, the odds of that are fairly remote. Regardless, Huelskamp said these sorts of tactics won't change how he does his job.
"I can speak for every one of my colleagues that was removed," he said. "This is our voting card. I'm holding my voting card in my hand, and I don't turn that over to any member of leadership or any other member of Congress. It's mine and I have a sacred bond with 700,000 constituents. We are clearly being punished by the way we use this card. That's a real disappointment. We were promised a different type of Republican leadership two years ago, and it's descended into the same command and control that we've seen far too often in Washington."
It's not just the four "punished" Republicans who are upset. Huelskamp said there are members on both sides of the aisle who are recoiling at this move. His constituents in Kansas are even more irate.
"Folks are furious. This is exactly what they've come to expect out of Washington of either party if you're a man or woman of principle and you want to vote the way you tell your people," he said. "This is exactly what I told them I would do, and this is what I told leadership how I would vote. Same way for Mr. Amash and Mr. Schweikert. And then be knocked down and punished for doing what you said you'd do. I think we need a lot more of that – not to punish those who said what they would do. Whether you're Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative, let's just have a little more integrity."
The congressman said this brazenly political move also violates core Republican values.
"Republican leaders are going to punish conservatives because of the conservative votes," Huelskamp said. "It's because of the votes, and everything else is, I believe, just a smokescreen of trying to reach an end that I think will violate a clear Republican principle."