House conservatives almost topple tax vote
House conservatives threatened to derail a key tax vote on Monday in an attempt to win more influence over the GOP’s spending strategy, just four days before the deadline to fund the government.
In a dramatic political stunt, more than a dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus withheld their support for a crucial procedural vote on the GOP’s tax bill, threatening an embarrassing blow to GOP leadership.
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The conservatives eventually relented, approving what had been thought to be a formality — a motion to appoint negotiators to hammer out a final tax bill with the Senate.
But the frenzy on the House floor underscored the divisions within the GOP over a spending strategy this month, and that the Republicans’ march toward overhauling the tax code — which has proceeded with relatively little drama so far — could get caught up in the process.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, said after Monday’s vote that he “felt very good” about his conversation on the floor with Speaker Paul Ryan, who personally involved himself in the arm-twisting of conservatives.
Meadows had earlier stepped outside the House chamber to take a phone call from President Donald Trump, but declined to give any details on the president’s message.
But he did tell reporters that he did not get an ironclad commitment to extend the length of a proposed stopgap spending bill.
Conservatives have balked at GOP leaders’ strategy to pass a two-week continuing resolution that would expire just before Christmas, fearful that Democrats will jam major spending increases into the must-pass bill. The full GOP conference is expected to settle on its spending plan at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, with a full floor vote expected Wednesday.
“There is a whole lot more pressure to get home for Christmas than there is for New Year’s,” Meadows said.
Later Monday night, the House Republican Study Committee also formalized their support for a longer-term stopgap bill.
At the last-minute huddle, the conservative caucus’s steering group agreed to push for a Dec. 30 continuing resolution, though they want it attached to a full year’s worth of defense spending. The group is also seeking long-awaited votes on welfare reform and deficit reduction bills, according to a House GOP source.
The House would likely need to clear a spending bill by Wednesday to allow time for a Senate vote by Friday at midnight.
GOP leaders have expressed confidence that they’ll be able to resolve the differences between the House and Senate tax bills even as they’re working to defuse any government funding battles, and House conservatives have long made it clear that they support the substance of the GOP tax bills.
After the Freedom Caucus stood down on Monday, Ryan ended up naming nine members to the conference committee, headlined by Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas). Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Don Young (R-Alaska), Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) were also named as conferees.
Democrats named three Ways and Means members: ranking member Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), two non-Ways and Means members, were also appointed.