If there was ever any doubt about it, yesterday removed it — the Tea Party has arrived on Capitol Hill.
The revolt of freshman and conservative Republicans over spending cuts for this fiscal year ended almost before it began, because it prevailed so rapidly. The rebellion started in rumblings back in the lawmakers’ districts; gathered in the defiance of Republican dissenters on the appropriations committee; and reached full force at yesterday’s conference meeting, knocking GOP leaders back on their heels and quickly convincing them to give in to the Tea Party’s demands.
“We may be freshmen, we may be rookies in this game,” says Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.). “But there is no question that the leadership respects our opinion.”
GOP freshmen were frustrated when, earlier this month, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) released his proposal to cut $58 billion in non-security spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. Perhaps more than anything, they were confused. To begin with, it wasn’t exactly clear how much money they were planning to cut — in addition to Ryan’s $58 billion, the numbers $74 billion, $43 billion, and $32 billion were floating around. It seemed that few could agree, because it depended on what baseline and category of spending you were using.
Whatever the actual figure, it was short of the $100 billion Republicans had promised to cut in the “Pledge to America.” And when new members were dispatched to their districts to explain how the GOP plan “technically” did cut $100 billion — the resolution covers only seven-twelfths of the fiscal year, and $58 billion is seven-twelfths of $100 billion — they grew more confused and frustrated.
This was the prevailing attitude when House members returned from last week’s district-work period. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) and other members of the Republican Study Committee promised to introduce an amendment that would tack on an additional $42 billion in cuts in order to hit $100 billion. Then came the first rumblings of a genuine revolt. On Tuesday evening, the House Appropriations Committee voted to move forward with a continuing resolution drafted using Ryan’s $58 billion in cuts. Even though the proposal passed the committee 27–22, two Republicans — Reps. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) and Cynthia Lummis (R., Wyo.) — cast “no” votes to protest the inadequacy of the cuts. In a further act of defiance, Flake filed a dissenting view in the committee’s report, a move that members of the majority party rarely make.
That contentious atmosphere carried over into Wednesday morning’s closed conference meeting, where Flake and Lummis were joined by dozens of freshmen in urging the party leadership to include further cuts in the continuing resolution — if anything, to make it easier to defend, and to remove all ambiguity regarding the Pledge. A GOP source tells National Review Online that a number of members rallied around Flake’s argument that “if you’re explaining things after the fact, you’re probably losing the battle.” In other words, “technically” fulfilling a pledge just wouldn’t cut it.
Representative Womack, a freshman member of the Appropriations Committee, says Flake’s comments really struck a chord. Womack admits to being rather confounded by the less-than-straightforward rhetoric surrounding Ryan’s numbers. At first, he chalked it up to being new and unfamiliar with the ways of Congress, but he soon found that he wasn’t alone. “I think most of us realized that the numbers we’re reporting and the budgets we’re referring need to be articulated in such a way that the American people can understand and that we can understand,” Womack says. “Even though there’s an argument for [adjusting the numbers to reflect the fiscal year], there’s still a demand for cuts that would match the Pledge.”