A group of the House’s hard-liners has been in touch while at home about how to tackle the impending fiscal battles — including a continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30 and raising the nation’s debt limit. The conservatives’ focus is squarely on whether the House leadership listens to their demands.
“We’ve been in constant communication in the course of the August recess,” South Carolina GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney said in a phone interview as he walked in to a town hall meeting along with South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy. The pair spent a chunk of the recess together, holding joint constituent meetings in both districts.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has given little indication that he’s going to give conservatives what they want, specifically a continuing resolution that would defund Obamacare. But conservatives think if he doesn’t, it could be a first shot in a renewed battle within the party.
“I’m still trying to get our leadership to actually take on Obamacare when it really counts,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said.
As part of a deal to keep the government running, conservatives want to defund Obamacare, but are also seeking to maintain spending at levels both consistent with the sequester and the House-passed budget. They will only agree to sign off on a debt ceiling hike if it cuts spending, but are unsure whether that should be part of a CR. Taking it a step further, conservatives argue that they aren’t simply seeking symbolic votes in the House, but real measures on which their leadership will stand firm in negotiations with the Senate.
These conservatives point to the January meeting of the House GOP Conference in Williamsburg, Va., where they say peace was struck. Leadership would hold strong on the sequester, uphold the so-called Hastert rule and keep all spending bills under the budget that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would put together. In exchange, conservatives would help pass appropriations bills.
“They’ve lived up to their word so far this year,” Mulvaney said.
But that doesn’t mean that deal would hold if a CR doesn’t include their requirements.
“Just keep their word, that’s all we’re asking, that doesn’t seem like a big ask,” Huelskamp said. “At the minimum, the House has to send out a CR that defunds Obamacare — doesn’t seem like much to ask.”
Because the deal has held, Mulvaney thinks conservatives are in a better place to push back at leadership.
“Because of the successes that we’ve racked up after Williamsburg,” he said, “if we had not had those successes and we had not been able to build that trust.”
There already have been signs of growing strife. The farm bill was defeated earlier this year when the original version included money for food stamps to which conservatives objected. At the time, it was seen as a possible precursor to fights on the CR and debt ceiling, even though ultimately, leadership was able to pass a version that picked up conservative votes.
And the strength of the once-small group is growing that caused so many problems during the fiscal cliff debate at the start of the year, the members say.
“I know for a fact that the conservatives are stronger and closer now than they were after the election,” Mulvaney said. “What I think we’ve done is probably grow our group since the election.”
He added: “There are folks who are reaching out to us on how we should handle the CR.”
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) sees the group of conservatives as having more experience to push back than they did in January.
“I think we have a number of members who now have their sea legs underneath them — they’re more comfortable in the process and what’s possible,” Schweikert said. “It took me a little while to realize, the shrillness and the pitching of the panic is actually how modern media works these days and not to get caught up in it.”
The group is unfazed by warnings from leadership that such demands will quickly be disregarded by the Senate and the White House. They see the fight within the Republican Conference as only the first hurdle of many.
And the argument that holding firm on defunding Obamacare could lead to Republicans being blamed for a government shutdown doesn’t sway them. They argue they will never get anything accomplished if they don’t start with the negotiations by asking for everything they want, not just what they can get.
Mulvaney thinks ignoring the Senate is the best approach. He points to the student loan legislation — which the White House threatened to veto before it even passed the House — and the “no budget, no pay” deal, which ultimately was signed into law as part of the last debt ceiling hike.
“The House is strongest when it passes good conservative legislation,” Mulvaney said. “That is what puts us in the best negotiating position with the Senate. We are extraordinarily weak and ultimately we fail when we try to anticipate.”
And they’re getting encouragement from outside. Groups like Heritage Action and ForAmerica are pushing conservatives to back proposals to defund Obamacare.
“Conservatives, be they elected, activists, or voters, see this as the best last chance we have to stop Obamacare before it cements its place in history and wreaks havoc on our health care system and the economy,” said conservative strategist Greg Mueller. “And, it’s not as hard as some GOPers and the media are making it out to be. It is more hysterics. All the House needs to do is pass CR that funds everything except Obamacare, then toss it to the Senate and let Obama and the Senate Dems, including Red State Dems up for reelection, either not fund the government over it or agree to vote to defund, which essentially delays Obamacare implementation for another year.”
And while many conservatives are trying to prep for the fight, others see the impending battle as something to be avoided.
Schweikert is trying to prevent a confrontation by taking a different approach to the CR and debt ceiling. He is working the phones during recess to try to sell conservative members on a proposal in which the House would pass an omnibus spending bill, rolling up all the spending bills that have yet to pass the House. It would be a one-year fix, as opposed to a short-term CR.
The process would allow for amendments, Schweikert said, allowing all members to stick to their campaign promises like voting to defund Obamacare.
As for the debt ceiling, Schweikert wants to allow for alternatives, like exempting interest payments from the debt ceiling, instead of just raising the cap. Conservatives who have sworn not to vote for raising the debt ceiling wouldn’t be forced to back down on their word, he said.
“It’s good policy and it’s good politics and helps move away from fracturing the conference,” Schweikert said.
Original article on Politico