Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday expressed displeasure at the ongoing talks over the fiscal cliff and offered only lukewarm support for House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), who is trying to negotiate a deal with President Barack Obama before the end of the year.
"There's a frustration among average Americans," Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.) said at forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
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Huelskamp was recently stripped of his posts on the House Budget and Agriculture Committees, a move many suspect was in retaliation for his votes against Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) budget—because it did not balance fast enough—and other leadership-backed proposals.
Boehner has come under fire from conservative politicians and pundits for the alleged "purge" of fiscal hawks and for proposing as much as $800 billion in new revenue in an effort to reach an agreement with the White House. A majority of GOP lawmakers have signed a pledge to their constituents vowing not to support a tax increase.
"That’s still a tax increase, even if you don’t increase the rates," Rep. John Fleming (R., La.) said of Boehner’s proposal, which raises revenues through reforms like deduction limits. " The president has never offered any cuts in spending, never. So we feel like our speaker has already given more than we’ve gotten and to give anything more than that would be absurd."
Fleming and other conservative House members joined Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) at a Capitol Hill press conference hosted by TeaParty.net to urge their colleagues to oppose any deal that raises taxes.
"The Republican Party is the party of limited government and low taxation," Paul said. "I don’t think its time to change who we are and what we stand for."
"The president would love for Republicans to violate their principles to admit that his failed economic policies are the result of bad tax policy," Huelskamp said, predicting Democrats would retake the House in two years if Republicans voted to raise taxes.
Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.), who was also stripped of his Budget Committee post, said he would be "willing to consider anything," including tax increases, as part a deal that would have a meaningful impact on the national debt.
"There is no deal on the table right now from either side that is a good deal for the American people," he said. "This isn't about who is liberal, who is conservative, this is about who is fighting for the American people."
Amash did not hesitate to criticize Boehner, saying he disagrees with his colleagues who insisted the speaker was "doing the best he can."
"We’re not doing the best job we can do. We can do a lot better," he said. "We need leaders on both sides and we don't have that right now."
Rep. Jeff Landry (R., La.), who recently lost his seat to fellow GOP Rep. Charles Boustany, was more blunt.
"Any blame to go around is going to be squarely on his shoulders," Landry said of Boehner. "A deal is going to be bad."
Others were more supportive of Boehner.
"I have confidence the speaker will negotiate a good deal," said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R., Wyo.) "I do not have confidence that the president will negotiate a good deal."
Most agreed that President Obama is perfectly willing, if not deliberately planning, to go over the fiscal cliff and blame Republicans for the repercussions.
"The president is not interested in a deal," Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) said. "I think the speaker is doing the best he can with what he has to work with and he wants to get a deal."
Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) criticized the media for not focusing on President Obama’s refusal to cut spending.
"I think Republicans are willing to compromise, the problem is we're compromising with ourselves," he said. "I want to see real cuts."
Labrador noted that President Obama had campaigned on reducing the deficit with a three-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. The president is asking for between $1.4 trillion and $1.6 trillion in tax increases, but has not proposed anything close to the $4 trillion to $5 trillion in spending cuts necessary to fulfill that ratio, Labrador said.
"He could actually get both if he was willing to negotiate [on spending]," he said. "I think right now he’s made it clear he doesn't want to cut spending, he only wants to increase taxes."