The House Freedom Caucus is not backing off its demand that GOP leaders cancel the August recess, urging House leadership once again to forego the break to work on Obamacare repeal, a budget deal and tax reform.
The group of hard-line conservatives, which often tangles with leaders, pushed back against Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Wednesday announcement that the House would not stick around unless the Senate passes a health care bill.
While Senate leaders on Tuesday canceled the first two weeks of the annual summer break to finalize health care and move delayed nominations, McCarthy (R-Calif.) said it would be pointless for the House to hang back with little to do. He warned members, however, that if the Senate passes the repeal bill, he would likely call everyone back to Washington within 72 hours so the House could send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk for enactment.
Not good enough, Freedom Caucus leaders said Wednesday. The group wants to stay in town until three goals are met: a Obamacare repeal bill is signed by Trump, the Hill strikes some sort of budget agreement and lifts the debt ceiling, and GOP leaders release a much anticipated tax bill.
“If we don’t have results, we shouldn’t have a recess,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) during a Freedom Caucus press conference, whereby conservatives vented their frustration.
“This idea that we’re going to leave here and go home for five weeks makes absolutely no sense,” fumed Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). "We should be here and we should get the work done."
The press conference couldn’t have stood in starker contrast to those held by GOP leaders, whereby Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and McCarthy have continuously touted the Congress as one of the most productive in decades. They did so just hours earlier.
But while the House has passed a bunch of more minor bills, including those aimed at helping veterans and job creation, most of Republicans’ major campaign promises, from repealing Obamacare to cutting taxes, remain unchecked. And there’s serious concern in Republican circles that their entire agenda could totally unravel if the repeal effort never passes, perhaps even costing them their congressional majorities.
However, leadership allies — and even a few conservatives who agree with the Freedom Caucus’ frustration — have grumbled that the group’s public display about cancelling recess is an attempt to garner headlines.
Others have argued that their calls are not fair because the onus is currently on the Senate to finalize its own repeal bill before the House can do anything. House insiders also want the Senate to take the lead on a debt ceiling and budget deal because chamber’s rules require eight Senate Democrats for passage — so the House is waiting to do anything on the matter.
But the Freedom Caucus wants to be part of the debt ceiling negotiations and does not want to get jammed with a bipartisan Senate debt ceiling-budget bill.
“The debt ceiling is coming; we know it’s coming. There’s absolutely no reason to push ourselves into a corner like a bunch of rats,” said an angry Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), arguing his constituents were tired of inaction.
They must be reading the writing on the wall. Many GOP insiders think that’s exactly what will happen because few in leadership believe conservatives will ever support a debt ceiling increase. What’s more, the Senate needs eight Senate Democrats to do anything, so the debt ceiling bill won’t likely have the steep cuts or reforms conservatives would need to back a deal.
That means GOP leaders probably won’t turn to the Freedom Caucus all to pass a budget agreement or a debt ceiling increase. And in that regard, conservatives probably will get squeezed on their priorities.
On tax reform, Ryan has said for months that the tax plan won’t be ready until later this year but is working behind the scenes with select White House and the Senate leaders to write the bill expected this fall.
The Freedom Caucus, however, also wants to be part of these plans and is threatening to hold up a House budget until they get more details from leaders on what that tax bill will look like. In particular, they want Ryan to commit to dropping a controversial new revenue stream to essentially increase taxes on imports but reduce them on exports, called border adjustment.
Their frustration likely stems from a feeling of getting left out in the original drafting of the House’s Obamacare replacement bill, which they initially opposed.
Asked if conservatives would go so far as to block a budget from the floor if they don’t get tax details, Meadows suggested they would: “There would not be enough votes to pass it because of conservative concerns.”
A GOP source following the budget said that’s unreasonable because “those details cannot be provided in a budget resolution." House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) has been trying for weeks to finalize her budget and move it forward, something she hopes to do before the recess in the next three weeks.
She made a huge push — taking on other GOP chairmen and even GOP leaders for a time — to add billions in mandatory cuts to programs like food stamps in the budget, hoping to win conservatives.
If she can’t win conservatives, however, her work may have been in vein.