House Republicans voiced displeasure with their leaders in a closed-door meeting Wednesday after some conservatives were kicked off plum committees this week in retaliation for bucking party leadership on big votes — and were met with warnings that others still could be punished.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican, called his party’s leaders “vindictive” for booting him from the House Agriculture and Budget committees.
He said he and other ousted Republicans have “taken turns” in complaining to leadership, including during the Wednesday meeting.
“You told us we could vote our conscience, vote our district, as long as we help” the House Republican campaign committee, Mr. Huelskamp said he told leaders. “I’ve raised $225,000 for the team — which is pretty good for my area — and was told, ‘You’re still a good member of the team, vote the way you want to vote.’”
He said House Speaker John A. Boehner told lawmakers others also may be targeted, saying the speaker told them their votes were being watched.
Committee assignments are doled out by a steering committee headed by Mr. Boehner, and his spokesman Michael Steel said those decisions are “based on a variety of factors.”
Party leaders often struggle to maintain discipline. Earmarks once were a key tool as leaders doled out spending for local projects based on who was most cooperative, but with the end of earmarks, leaders have fewer tools at their disposal. Committee assignments are one way to punish lawmakers.
Mr. Huelskamp and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who also lost his spot on the Budget Committee, both voted against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal this year, arguing that the cuts in the plan did not go far enough.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, a moderate Republican from North Carolina, said he was “very disappointed” and “a little bit surprised” he was booted from his spot on the Financial Services Committee after he repeatedly voted against Mr. Boehner’s wishes.
Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona is also losing his seat on Financial Services.
Mr. Amash said he learned he had been removed from the Budget Committee from news reports.
“As for leadership, they keep insisting that it wasn’t based on votes, but it’s pretty clear that there was a scorecard,” Mr. Amash said. “And we’d like to see that scorecard. … I’m a mild-mannered person. I’m not a person who’s going out there causing public problems for leadership.”
Chris Chocola, president of the conservative Club For Growth, wants to see the reported vote list as well.
“The Club for Growth frequently ranks members of Congress based on their commitment to economic freedom, and we post all of the votes we use on our website for the world to see,” Mr. Chocola said. “The House Republican Steering Committee should do the same.”
Mr. Jones, who has voted against his party about 30 percent of the time, said he isn’t angry, has no regrets and vowed to continue to vote his conscience.
“I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity for anyone or any party,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s the price you pay. I didn’t come up here to be a puppet for anyone.”
Few options are available for rank-and-file lawmakers to get back at leaders, but one would be to withhold their vote for Mr. Boehner as speaker when Congress votes Jan. 3.
Asked if he’d go that far, Mr. Huelskamp quipped, “You know, the Fiesta Bowl with [Kansas] State’s the same day.”