WASHINGTON -- Conservative groups are furious with GOP leadership for stripping several lawmakers of spots on powerful committees after it was deemed that they were not toeing the party line.
On Monday, the Republican Steering Committee, which is chaired by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), voted to remove Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) from the House Budget Commtitee. Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) lost their positions on the Financial Services Committee.
The four members are known for occasionally bucking leadership and voting against Boehner's wishes. Amash, Huelskamp and Schweikert are popular with the conservative movement, while Jones has made a name for himself by speaking out against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
Huelskamp and Amash were also the only GOP votes against Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan this year, arguing that it didn't cut spending enough. The Steering Committee recently recommended that Ryan stay on as Budget Committee chairman.
When asked for comment on the changes, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel replied, "The Steering Committee makes decisions based on a range of factors."
Reuters notes that removing Amash and Huelskamp from the Budget Committee "could make it easier for the panel to advance a deal with Democrats to cut fiscal deficits" -- which is exactly what many conservative groups are afraid of.
In an email blast on Tuesday, the Tea Party group FreedomWorks told its members to call Boehner's office and tell him to "stop purging fiscal conservatives," highlighting the ouster of Amash, Huelskamp and Schweikert.
Conservative activist Brent Bozell warned Republican lawmakers not to accept any deal on the so-called fiscal cliff, saying in a statement, "It would be impossible to count the times and ways Boehner, [Rep. Eric] Cantor, [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy and so many others have told America that tax hikes would kill jobs and cripple the economy. Lo and behold, that’s just what they've proposed, $800 billion of them."
Bozell was referring to the GOP leadership's fiscal cliff offer that would raise $800 billion in tax revenue to help close the deficit without raising rates.
The Club for Growth called the lawmakers' reassignments "a consequence of their principled stands on behalf of pro-growth policies, often bringing them in conflict with the leadership of their own party."
The members who lost their committee spots loudly voiced their displeasure.
Huelskamp unloaded on GOP leadership Tuesday at a Heritage Foundation event in Washington, saying, "We were not notified about what might occur but it confirms in my mind the deepest suspicions that most Americans have about Washington D.C: it’s petty, it’s vindictive, and if you have conservative principles you will be punished.”
Amash told reporters that he never received any sort of notification from the GOP leadership about his removal from the Budget Committee.
"It's a slap in the face to all young people who are thinking about being Republicans, want to be a part of this party, and are being told, 'Well, if you disagree with leadership just a couple times we’re going to send you home … you don’t get to participate,'" he said.
Schweikert spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said the congressman is "going to continue to fight for the same principles he's fought for on the committee."
Jones told reporters he was disappointed and "somewhat" surprised -- but not angry -- that he had lost his spot on the Financial Services Committee, chalking it up to the times he's voted against Boehner. According to a Washington Post database, Jones has gone against his party 31 percent of the time.
"When you have these kind of purges, even though this is a small number, it's the wrong way to go when you're trying to build support," he said, adding, "I'm not going to sacrifice my integrity for anyone or any party. My integrity is what will get me into heaven."
Jones said he hasn't yet spoken to Boehner. In fact, he only found out he lost his spot on the committee when his staff read about it on the Internet.
Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.
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The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate roughly <a href="http://www.parade.com/news/2009/03/why-we-must-fix-our-prisons.html" target="_hplink">five times higher than the global average</a>. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, according to The Economist,. This status quo costs our local, state and federal governments a combined $68 billion a year -- all of which becomes a federal problem during recessions, when states look to Washington for fiscal relief. Over the standard 10-year budget window used in Congress, that's a $680 billion hit to the deficit. Solving longstanding prison problems -- releasing elderly convicts unlikely to commit crimes, offering treatment or counseling as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders, slightly shortening the sentences of well-behaved inmates, and substituting probation for more jail-time -- would do wonders for government spending.
End Of The Drug War
The federal government spends more than <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20072096.html" target="_hplink">$15 billion a year</a> investigating and prosecuting the War on Drugs. That's $150 billion in Washington budget-speak, and it doesn't include the far higher costs of incarcerating millions of people for doing drugs. This money isn't getting the government the results it wants. As drug war budgets balloon, drug use escalates. Ending the Drug War offers the government two separate budget boons. In addition to saving all the money spending investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders, Uncle Sam could actually regulate and tax drugs like marijuana, generating new revenue. Studies by pot legalization advocates indicate that fully legalizing weed in California would yield <a href="http://canorml.org/background/CA_legalization2.html" target="_hplink">up to $18 billion annually</a> for that state's government alone. For the feds, the benefits are even sweeter.
Let Medicare Negotiate With Big Pharma
The U.S. has <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/01/us-healthcare-costs-sb-idUSTRE5504Z320090601" target="_hplink">higher health care costs than any other country</a>. We spend over 15 percent of our total economic output each year on health care -- roughly 50 percent more than Canada, and double what the U.K. spends. Why? The American private health care system is inefficient, and the intellectual property rules involving medication in the U.S. can make prescription drugs much more expensive than in other countries. Medicare currently spends about $50 billion a year on prescription drugs. According to economist Dean Baker, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_hplink">Americans spend roughly 10 times more than they need to</a> on prescription drugs as a result of our unique intellectual property standards. These savings for the government, of course, would come from the pockets of major pharmaceutical companies, currently among the most profitable corporations the world has ever known. They also exercise tremendous clout inside the Beltway. President Barack Obama even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/barack-obama-politics_n_1847947.html" target="_hplink">guaranteed drug companies more restrictive -- and lucrative -- intellectual property standards</a> in order to garner their support for the Affordable Care Act.
Offshore Tax Havens
The U.S. Treasury Department estimates that it loses about <a href="http://www.ctj.org/pdf/stopact.pdf" target="_hplink">$100 billion a year</a> in revenue due to offshore tax haven abuses. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing legislation for years to rein in this absurd tax maneuvering, but corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill has prevented the bill from becoming law.
Deprivatize Government Contract Work
In recent years, the federal government has privatized an enormous portion of public projects to government contractors. Over the past decade, the federal government's staffing has held steady, while the number of federal contractors has <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">increased by millions</a>. This outsourcing has resulted in much higher costs for the government than would be incurred by simply doing the work in-house. On average, contractors are paid <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">nearly double</a> what a comparable federal employee would receive for the same job, according to the Project On Government Oversight.
Print More Money
There's an old saying in economics: You have to print money to make money. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/underwear-sales-growth-economy_n_1952214.html" target="_hplink">Okay, there's no such saying</a>. Nevertheless, the great boogeyman of many conservative economic doctrines -- inflation -- isn't such a bad idea during periods where much of the citizenry is drowning in debt. Inflation is by no means a perfect remedy: it's a stealth cut to workers' wages. But it also has many benefits that are often unacknowledged by the Washington intelligentsia. Inflation makes housing debt, student loan debt and any other private-sector debt more manageable. Today, when <a href="http://www.corelogic.com/about-us/researchtrends/asset_upload_file448_16434.pdf" target="_hplink">10.8 million</a> homes are underwater -- meaning borrowers owe banks than their houses are worth, moderate inflation could ease that debt burden. By effectively reducing monthly bills, moderate inflation could actually put more money in the pockets of these homeowners to spend elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy. Moderate inflation -- 5 percent or so -- could also help alleviate the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57555780/student-loan-debt-nears-$1-trillion-is-it-the-new-subprime/" target="_hplink">$1 trillion</a> in student debt currently plaguing America's graduates. Make no mistake -- hyperinflation of 20 percent, 30 percent or more -- is bad. But the U.S. has ways to crush inflation when it gets out of hand, as proven by the Federal Reserve under then-Chairman Paul Volcker in the early-1980s.
Print Less Money
The government prints a <em>lot</em> of $1 bills. But it turns out that minting $1 coins is much, much cheaper. Over the course of 30 years, the government could save $4.4 billion by switching from dollar bills to dollar coins. Here's looking at you, <a href="http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/nativeamerican/" target="_hplink">Sacagawea</a>.
Immigration: Less Detention, More Ankle Bracelets
The government spends <a href="http://newamericamedia.org/2012/04/ice-slow-to-embrace-alternatives-to-immigrant-detention.php" target="_hplink"> $122 per person, per day</a> detaining immigrants who are considered safe and unlikely to commit crimes. The government has plenty of other options available to monitor such people, at a cost of as little as $15 per person. For the first 205 years of America's existence, there was no federal system for detaining immigrants. The process began in 1981.
Financial Speculation Tax
Wall Street loves to gamble. In good times, financial speculation is the source of tremendous profits in America's banking system, but when the bets go bad, the government picks up the tab, as evidenced by the epic bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, this speculation is difficult to define in legalistic terminology and even more difficult to police. One solution? By taxing every financial trade at the ultra-low rate of 0.25 percent, the U.S. government can impose a modest incentive against gambling for the sheer sake of gambling. If there's an immediate cost to placing a bet, a lot of traders will choose not to bet. What's more, this tax could raise about <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/media/why_a_financial_transaction_tax" target="_hplink">$150 billion a year</a> for the federal government.
Taxing greenhouse gases would generate $80 billion a year right now, and up to $310 billion a year by 2050, <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/07/carbon-tax-mckibbin-morris-wilcoxen" target="_hplink">according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution</a>. It would also help avert catastrophic ecological and economic damage from climate change.