Two top congressional conservatives rejected the notion Tuesday that they must compromise their principles to adapt to changing political winds, as both — the old and new chairmen of the House Republican Study Committee — said they will hold firm in the face of the Obama administration's agenda.
The comments from outgoing Chairman Jim Jordan and incoming Chairman Steve Scalise come as conservatives face a crossroads of whether to begrudgingly support raising taxes in the current budget fight or try their luck in the court of public opinion, which polls show leans toward President Obama in the talks.
And they suggest a difficult path for House Speaker John A. Boehner, who has floated an $800 billion tax increase in his negotiations with Mr. Obama but will eventually have to sell a deal to fellow Republicans.
Mr. Jordan flatly dismissed the possibility of supporting an increase on the top marginal income tax rate, which stands at 35 percent — though under current law, it's slated to rise to 39.6 percent Jan. 1. He also said he doesn't believe leaders who promise to cut spending in exchange for the tax increase.
"Everyone knows Washington has a spending problem — a big one," Mr. Jordan said. "Remember — this is politicians making the promises. 'We promise — give us some more money, and we'll actually use it to reduce the deficit and the debt.' Never happens.
"So it's a joke to go down this road," he continued. "You can't trust them. Particularly the guys in Congress, for goodness sake. So you can't go there. You just cannot go there."
The vast majority of House Republicans — approximately 160 members — belong to the Republican Study Committee. The purpose of the group is to form a self-described "ideological rallying point" where conservatives who do not necessarily have the tenure to be in leadership positions can still exert influence.
Still, it's not clear how many committee members will reject all efforts to raise taxes.
Mr. Jordan, Ohio Republican, said conservatives win when they stick to core principles of lower taxes, less spending, a strong national defense and "traditional American values."
"We have to make sure we're presenting what we think is best for the country in a way that connects with American families," he said at a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. "And when we do that, we win."
He shrugged off suggestions that the GOP must fundamentally change if it's to remain electorally competitive in the future — noting that some of the "advice" for Republicans now is coming from MSNBC, which features an array of liberal hosts in its prime-time television lineup.
"I don't think anything has changed. People [say], 'Oh, Republicans got to do this.' When we stick with our principles and present them correctly and appropriately with the right passion and the right way, we win," he said. "So I think we're at one of those important moments for the conservative movement where we have to recognize that what we believe in is right, it's principled, it's truth, and we have to be willing to make the case and do the extra work and make sure we can prevail."
Mr. Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who is taking over as chairman of the committee, said even as Mr. Obama claims a mandate from his re-election, House Republicans won one as well — precisely by advocating and running on conservative principles.
"We went out and we explained to the people of the country what we want to do to, No. 1, get our economy moving again, but also to control spending in Washington, and we were re-elected," Mr. Scalise said. "And we were re-elected with a mandate not only to continue to be in charge of the House, but to be that only line of defense against a radical administration."
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