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Purge-worthy?

2:45 PM, Dec 13, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Have you heard about the great conservative “purge” of 2012? Last week, outrage erupted among some activists on the right when a few Republican congressmen—Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Justin Amash of Michigan, and Dave Schweikert of Arizona—lost their committee assignments. According to National Review’s John Fund, this action “clearly” represented a “purge of conservatives.”

Amash

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan

“We’ve heard from multiple sources that someone walked in with a list of votes and said, ‘if you didn’t reach a particular scorecard on the ‘right’ votes—which by the way, in most cases, were not the conservative positions—we’re gonna remove you from committee,” Huelskamp said at a Heritage Foundation Bloggers Briefing. “It confirms, in my mind, Americans’ deepest suspicions about Washington. It’s petty, it’s vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles, you will be punished for it.”

But in reality, ideology and voting against compromises hashed out between John Boehner and the Democrats do not explain why these members lost their committee assignments. Dozens of Republicans, including freshmen Tea Party members Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Raul Labrador of Idaho, voted against every single budget deal in 2011 and 2012. But as Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the newly elected chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, has pointed out, both Mulvaney and Labrador were elevated to spots they were seeking on top committees.

“In the end you look at Mick and Raul getting elevated to positions that they wanted, so, while some went down, some went up,” Scalise told The Hill’s Molly K. Hooper. “It was more an individual thing. It had nothing to do with conservatism. Otherwise, Mick and Raul wouldn’t be where they are.” Indeed, Jim Jordan, head of the conservative Republican Study Committee in 2011 and 2012, was one of the biggest thorns in John Boehner’s side, and he kept his committee assignments too.

What separated the likes of Huelskamp and Amash from Labrador and Mulvaney was not opposition to budget compromises. The big, obvious difference in their voting records is that Huelskamp and Amash flip-flopped on the budget written by Paul Ryan and voted with Democrats to kill it in committee. The Ryan budget, which had been hailed in 2011 by Rush Limbaugh as “substantively superb and politically brilliant,” squeaked through the Budget Committee in 2012 on a 19-18 vote.

Why did Amash and Huelskamp vote against the Ryan budget? They both said it didn’t balance the budget quickly enough. “According to CBO,” Rep. Amash said in a statement this spring, "the budget won't reach balance until nearly 2040." That's true—it’s a sign of how deep a hole we’re in and the fact that CBO assumes conservative pro-growth tax policy cannot produce economic growth. But CBO made the same prediction for the 2011 budget, which Amash and Huelskamp supported.

“What I was most worried about was the failure of House Republicans to actually put some meat on the bones on tax reform,” Huelskamp told me in an interview. “We had a one-pager. We refused to provide any details.” The criticism that Republicans should have been more specific on tax reform is fair enough. In the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney actually had an easier time of defending specific proposals (Medicare reform) than vague ones (tax reform). But lack of specificity on tax reform is an odd reason to vote against the Ryan budget. It falls outside the authority of the Budget Committee to write tax law. That’s the job of the Ways and Means Committee. The tax reform outlined in the 2012 budget that Huelskamp voted against was identical to the 2011 budget he voted for.

Republican sources on Capitol Hill say that voting against the Ryan budget in committee—or against any other bill—was not the reason why Amash and Huelskamp lost their spots on the budget committee. Rather, sources say, a variety of factors were taken into consideration by the Republican Steering Committee, which discussed the removal of these members over the course of two days.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, a conservative member of the Steering Committee, bluntly told fellow Republicans during a meeting Wednesday that the three congressmen lost their seats because of the "asshole factor." 

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