Washington is abuzz over whether House Speaker John A. Boehner is purging conservatives from positions of power within his caucus. In a closed-door meeting Monday, Republican leaders stripped plum committee assignments from four outspoken advocates of limited government.
No explanation was given for the move. Rep. Justin Amash learned he was kicked off the prestigious Budget Committee by reading about it in a newspaper. The Michigan Republican's spokesman said it is not clear yet whether he also has been removed from the Joint Economic Committee. Freshman Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona and Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina were ousted from the Financial Services Committee.
Those decisions were made by the Republican Steering Committee, where the top House leaders, major committee chairmen, regional representatives and incoming freshman and sophomore class representatives divvy up who serves where. The rules grant the speaker five votes, which, combined with the rest of the votes from leadership and committee chairmen, always carry the day. Mr. Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, would only say, "The steering committee makes decisions based on a variety of factors."
Rep. Tim Huelskamp was booted from the Budget and Agriculture committees, even though a member from his Kansas district has had a seat on Agriculture for the past 151 years. Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa delivered the bad news to Mr. Huelskamp in a phone call Monday. "What's frustrating is it takes place behind closed doors," Mr. Huelskamp told The Washington Times. "They don't have courage enough to say who is responsible for it. It's not just distressing for me, but for the 700,000 people in my district who just lost their voice in the agriculture committee."
Mr. Huelskamp had released a video Friday saying he would keep his word on the tax pledge in the "fiscal cliff" deal and, he said, "less than one business day later, I got removed." The career farmer and rancher said leadership was sending the message that "if someone is willing to articulate and vote conservative principles, this is the way you get treated in today's GOP establishment."
All four of these "rebel" members voted against the debt-ceiling deal brokered between Mr. Boehner and President Obama in 2011. While Mr. Jones has a history of bucking leadership, the other three are similar in that they are freshmen who enjoy strong Tea Party support. Mr. Huelskamp and Mr. Amash voted against the House budget earlier this year. The three freshmen are also members of the conservative caucus in the House, the Republican Study Committee (RSC).
Incoming RSC Chairman Steve Scalise is a member of the steering committee as a regional representative. In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times, the Louisiana Republican said he does not think the committee changes were an attack on conservatives.
"I don't think it was ideology that caused that; it was probably more based on individual personality," said Mr. Scalise, who pointed out that the members newly added to the Financial Services Committee -- Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Dennis A. Ross of Florida and Marlin A. Stutzman of Indiana -- are RSC members.
GOP leaders need to maintain discipline within their ranks, but Mr. Amash, Mr. Huelskamp, Mr. Jones and Mr. Schweikert don't deserve to be muzzled for trying to do the right thing for their constituents and the country.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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