POLITICS

Tim Huelskamp's battle with leadership a problem for constituents?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Tim Huelskamp

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., has been embroiled in a very public falling out with party leadership since the end of the election, keyed by his loss of committee assignments. So, who is winning? That might depend on how Huelskamp’s constituents respond.

“We will miss having an advocate on the House Ag[riculture] Committee,” Kansas Wheat Commissioner Ron Suppes told The Hutchinson News (Kan.)  Huelskamp was the only Kansan lawmaker with a seat at that table, which he has lost.

If anything, the loss of those committee spots has emboldened Huelskamp in his opposition to the GOP leadership agenda, as evidenced by the way he rallied opposition against the “Plan B” proposal offered by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

“Republican leadership thought they could silence conservatives when they kicked us off our Committees,” Huelskamp said after Plan B failed. “I’m glad that enough of my colleagues refused to back down after the threats and intimidation, thus preventing the Conference from abandoning our principles.”

If keeping taxes low is Huelskamp’s goal, then opposing Plan B was counterproductive. Boehner’s bill would have extended current tax rates for everyone making less than a million dollars. With Republicans in a weaker negotiating position, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden are negotiating to lock in the current tax rate for individuals making $400,000 or less.

Huelskamp’s office said that “the House should stick to its original objective of extending ALL Bush-Obama tax cuts (as it did in August), and that the real focus of the entire fiscal cliff debate should be about spending, not about more revenue.” That’s true, but not an achievable goal given that taxes go up automatically if no deal is made.

Huelskamp argues that he’s doing what he was elected to do.

“It was no secret when I was assigned to these Committees two years ago that I would hold Washington to a higher standard when it comes to getting our fiscal house in order and restoring government to its proper size and role,” he wrote in a December 7 letter requesting that he retain his committee assignments in the new Congress. “I followed through on those promises to Kansans and will not cave on the principles and values that my constituents and I share.”

Huelskamp also produced internal polling to argue that his constituents support him on this issue. “Ninety-one percent said ‘Tim Huelskamp should continue to stand firm for cutting spending and refusing to raise taxes’ while only 9% said ‘Tim Huelskamp should compromise and increase spending and raise taxes,’” he wrote before Christmas. “And 90% agreed that ‘Tim Huelskamp should continue to stand firm for conservative principles like reducing spending and protecting traditional values, even if it means Republican leadership in Washington kicks him off his Committees.’”

Does Huelskamp’s habit of fighting leadership in this manner endear him to conservative Kansans? Time will tell.

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