Conservative Republican Reps. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan hit back at Republican leadership on Tuesday, following their Monday removal from prominent committees, calling the move “petty” and “vindictive,” and accusing Speaker of the House John Boehner and his deputies of silencing independent conservative voices in preparation to steamroll a tax hike through Congress.
Huelskamp — who was removed from the Agriculture and Budget Committees — released a video on Friday declaring his intention to not vote for any tax increases and received notice of his removal on Monday, “one business day” later.
“I think there’s going to be an attempt to pass a tax increase through the House, in exchange for what?” he told a group of reporters at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday afternoon. “This president doesn’t want to do entitlement reform, doesn’t want to cut spending… I think it makes very clear to conservatives that you’re about to get run over.”
The decision, he said, was “all behind closed doors” and was presented to him as based on a secret scorecard of “what was considered the right vote.”
Libertarian star Amash suggested that a willingness to put defense cuts on the table was behind his and Huelskamp’s removal from the Budget Committee, as well as Arizona Rep. David Schweikert and North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones’ removal from the Financial Services Committee.
“I can tell you that to different degrees, Tim Huelskamp and even Walter Jones have taken positions on military spending that are a little more open to compromise on that issue — working with Democrats to try and find ways to reduce spending… I don’t know if that’s the common thread for sure, but it’s certainly true about all of us that we’re more open to that.”
“I think they [Republican leaders] are willing to raise taxes to avoid any defense cuts,” he charged, “and I think they’re willing to take any deals, even bad ones, to avoid defense cuts.”
Amash clarified that he is not for massive slashes in defense, but said that all things need to be considered in order to achieve a compromise in negotiations with Democrats.
“The amount of reform we are going to need in Medicare and Social Security is significant,” he said, “and we’re not going to get there unless we look like honest brokers.”
The decision to boot them from the committee, Huelskamp told reporters, “confirms most Americans’ deepest suspicions about Washington: It’s petty, it’s vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles, you will be punished… No good deed goes unpunished.”
“My constituents didn’t send me to vote for him [President Barack Obama] and they didn’t send me to vote for [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid or Mr. Boehner,” Huelskamp said.
Amash said that he had not even been informed of the decision yet, and only heard about it from the media.
“We haven’t even been told officially that we were removed from the Budget Committee,” Amash told reporters. “I had to read it in the newspaper… I haven’t received a single call from leadership, a single email… I think it’s pretty outrageous, frankly.”
The move and the secret score card, he said, is “a slap in the face of all young people out there who are thinking about being Republicans, want to be a part of this party.”
“I voted with our team — the Republican side – 95 percent of the time,” Amash said. “And on the 5 percent of disagreements, those were on big issues” including the debt ceiling and the Republican budget, which he said did not go far enough to curb government spending.
“Though it’s confidential what happens behind committee doors,” Huelskamp said “a whole lot of leadership staffers knew what was going on.”
“We were not notified about this,” Huelskamp, who has since been told, added.
When the congressmen were elected in 2010, Huelskamp said, the two things they were told they had to do to were fundraise with Republicans and notify leadership of their vote before they made it. So long as they did those things, he said, they would be used to their best abilities on committees, and they were permitted to vote their conscience and their district.
“I’ve voted my conscience,” Hueslkamp said. “I’ve voted my district… I’m a farmer — 5th generation farmer… That’s my talent, that’s my ability. … We were told as freshmen, we’ll take your talents,” Huelskamp said. “Again, it was blindly being told how to vote.”
On sequestration, both Amash and Huelskamp charged Republican leadership with not ever being serious about spending cuts.
Defense cuts were “a lie to the American people,” Amash charged. “It was a gimmick… and that’s what we’ve been getting for years, for decades.”
“It was told to us in the Budget Committee that everybody knows it [automatic sequestration cuts] isn’t going to happen,” Amash told reporters. “What do you mean? … This has come directly from our leadership, so it’s pretty difficult to trust them when they go into a back room… and the cuts were all a mirage. … They’ve sent that message to the American people: We don’t want to solve that problem, we are happy continuing down the same path.”
Huelskamp also hit back at the possibility of Congress abolishing the debt limit – something the president has demanded as part of his sequestration deal. That, Huelskamp said, is a separate issue, as the debt limit will not be reached until January or March, whereas sequestration takes place on Jan. 1, 2013. Surrendering the debt limit, he added, would also leave the Republicans unable to challenge Obama’s agenda.
“Without a doubt, the debt ceiling is the only remaining lever we have on this president over the next four years,” he said, “and if we’re willing to give this away for a tax increase? … That’s not part of the fiscal cliff, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a separate issue.”
Though neither Huelskamp nor Amash said they knew what was next for their duties in the GOP, they did say that the showing of conservative support was impressive.
“I have never seen so much support for me and Tim” as these past few days,” Amash said.
Still, the decision, he said, is unlikely to be reversed.