Huelskamp removed from House ag committee
By Larry Dreiling
The House Republican leadership Dec. 4 dropped Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, from membership of the House Agriculture Committee. Huelskamp was also removed as a member of the House Budget Committee.
Huelskamp was among four GOP House members removed from various House committees. Huelskamp, along with Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, were taken off the House Budget Committee. David Schweikert of Arizona and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina were booted from the Financial Services Committee.
According to a report in the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, the Republican Steering Committee made the decisions at a meeting after reviewing a spreadsheet listing how often each GOP lawmaker had voted with leadership.
The change is considered a sign that House Speaker John Boehner wants a united front during budget negotiations with President Barack Obama. The Roll Call report said the Ohio Republican had previously altered the makeup of the Steering Committee, increasing his own votes on the panel from four to five and reducing the number of representatives from the class of 2010 from two to one.
In a statement following the vote, Huelskamp was defiant.
"The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions," the statement said. "This is clearly a vindictive move, and a sure sign that the GOP establishment cannot handle disagreement."
Huelskamp then gave a list of what he considered accomplishments, including efforts to hold Republicans to the "Pledge to America" that would roll back government spending to 2008 levels, cutting 21 percent of the $477 billion budgeted for domestic discretionary spending while exempting seniors, veterans, and the military. Those cuts would include reductions in food assistance programs above what the proposed 2012 farm bill would entail.
"The Kansans who sent me to Washington did so to change the way things are done--not to provide cover for establishment Republicans who only give lip service to conservative principles," Huelskamp's statement concluded. "If the rest of America is anything like the 700,000 Kansans I represent, then they know that the fiscal and cultural crises facing our nation require drastic changes to the way things are done in Washington--not just symbolic gestures or more of the same."
House Agriculture Committee staff referred this reporter to the House Republican Conference for comment, which did not return a call prior to deadline.
Reacting via a phone interview from a speaking engagement in South Dakota, Barry Flinchbaugh, Ph.D., professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, said of Huelskamp's ouster, "He's earned it."
Flinchbaugh said it's thought to be the first time a member of Congress from the "Big First" district of Kansas is not a member of the House Agriculture Committee.
"You represent the largest single agricultural district in the country," Flinchbaugh said. "You don't go voting against farm bills in this kind of a situation. You don't make food stamps the issue. You certainly don't vote in favor of taking food stamps out of the farm bill when everyone else--including myself--told him it would be a disaster."
Flinchbaugh, who's analyzed farm legislation since 1968, told of a short visit he had with Huelskamp during the K-State football team's win over Texas Dec. 1.
"I told him to answer (Sen. Pat) Roberts' phone calls and do what he tells you. He's got 50 years more experience than you do. That was the end of the conversation."
Chapman Rackaway, Ph.D., head of the Political Management Program at Fort Hays State University, was more blunt.
"The chickens have come home to roost," for Huelskamp by taking a hard line on taxes and spending, Rackaway said.
"This means our state's primary industry has no voice at the most important table there is in Congress for them. It's vital. It's in committees that bills are formed. Huelskamp has no opportunity to formally influence legislation to help Kansas farmers, because few amendments to bills are allowed on the House floor.
"The Tea Party believes the best thing you can do with government is blow it up entirely. Fiscal conservatism in Congress used to mean you'd work to make the overall pie as small as you can while trying to get the biggest slice of the pie for your district. If that means keeping things like food stamps going, so be it. By marginalizing these programs, Huelskamp wanted not only a small pie, but also a much smaller slice. That may sound good at town halls, but it's not good for a district."
Huelskamp, therefore, lost his committee seats because he couldn't compromise, Rackaway said.
"What we have lost sight of in this country is that Congress is a slow, deliberative, body where you don't get everything you want all the time," Rackaway said. "There are some things you have to compromise on. Huelskamp has been so steadfastly tied to one set of principles that he can't back away from it. That made him someone Boehner and (Majority Leader Eric) Cantor can't rely on.
"Republicans are on their back foot. They have to be willing to compromise with Democrats and come up with creative solutions because right now everyone is blaming them. If they can't get the fiscal cliff solved, Huelskamp and those others will be the poster children for why the GOP will be seen as a failure."
One group supporting Huelskamp is the Club For Growth.
"Congressmen Schweikert, Huelskamp, and Amash are now free of the last remnants of establishment leverage against them," Club For Growth President Chris Chocola said in Politico. "The dirty little secret in Congress is that while refusing to kowtow to the wishes of party leaders can sometimes cost you some perks in Washington, the taxpayers back home are grateful."
Flinchbaugh said far-right groups don't count in Kansas as much as groups like the Kansas Farm Bureau and various commodity groups.
"They now know they have an opportunity to put into place someone who will represent agriculture," Flinchbaugh said. "The moderates in the commodity groups can take this and run with it and the Club For Growth won't carry the day in Kansas."
Paul Penner, second vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a Hillsboro, Kan., farmer, said his group would not officially comment on Huelskamp's removal.
"We aren't taking a position on intraparty matters," Penner said. "We work with people of both parties in representing farmers' interests in legislation. Our priority is in seeing a farm bill move forward." NAWG does not endorse candidates for positions at any level.
Huelskamp's hard line stance and his subsequent ouster from committees is fascinating, Rackaway said, because now other members will gladly take the money that would go to projects in Huelskamp's district but rejected because of his hard line behavior.
"Take Huelskamp and his behavior toward funding the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. With Manhattan now in the district they now have a baked-in issue against him. And with his being off these committees, it's like Boehner is begging for a primary challenger against this guy."
Added Flinchbaugh: "This is Bob Dole's old seat. It belonged to Keith Sebelius, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. They were tough shoes to fill and (Huelskamp) could have filled them if he had let us help him, but he wouldn't. Now he'll likely pay a dear price."
Both Flinchbaugh and Rackaway said either State Sen. Garrett Love of Montezuma or Salina real estate broker Tracey Mann would be a good opponent to Huelskamp. Mann took third place in the 2008 primary Huelskamp won on his way to election to the House. Messages to Love and Mann were not returned.
"If I were Garrett Love or Tracey Mann, I'd be making calls for fundraising right now," Rackaway said.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at email@example.com.