House Freedom Caucus members expressed frustration Thursday with how Republican congressional leaders are handling the party’s legislative agenda a day after President Donald Trump reached a deal with Democrats on a short-term debt-limit extension.
“If we get to December and we have not repealed and replaced Obamacare,” funded Trump’s Mexican border wall or overhauled tax laws, “it’s not going to be pretty,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said at a Bloomberg News breakfast.
The North Carolina Republican acknowledged that his group can’t stop the short-term debt-limit deal, though he said the agreement will put the GOP in a poor negotiating position in December when government spending and the debt limit would be set to expire.
“No way the president will be negotiating from a position of strength,” Meadows said in a separate interview on Bloomberg TV.
But Meadows, who played a pivotal role in the effort to unseat then-House Speaker John Boehner in 2015, dismissed talk of any uprising to oust Speaker Paul Ryan.
“I think there’s going to be rebellion against everybody, not just the leadership” and the difficulty would be “not just a leadership thing” but for all House Republicans, said Meadows, referring to the 2018 mid-term elections.
During an Oval Office meeting Wednesday, Trump accepted a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi of California, to tie a three-month suspension of the debt limit to a Hurricane Harvey relief measure — and throw in a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government into December. The agreement leaves fellow Republicans — who control both houses of Congress — reeling and lawmakers bracing for a bruising battle in December.
“Everybody’s surprised” about the deal on the debt ceiling, Meadows said at the breakfast. “It’s not something that any of us advocated for.”
“We’re being dictated terms and conditions by Democrats while they are in the minority,” another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, said at the breakfast.
Like several leaders of conservative groups, the Freedom Caucus members put the blame on Republican leaders rather than Trump for the debt-limit deal. Meadows complained that Republican leaders lacked a clear plan on dealing with the debt limit.
“I was not aware of any plan,” Meadows said. “In fact, I was not aware of really any substantial conversations that happened among rank and file members on the debt ceiling other than, ‘We’re got to raise it.’”
On a tax overhaul, Meadows and former Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan said they would be heading to the White House later Thursday to talk about their group’s ideas, contending there has been no plan from Republican leaders yet.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio (Photo: Jordan)
“Hope is not a plan,” Jordan of Ohio. “What is the plan for tax reform” such as the corporate rate and tax brackets, he asked.
One good outcome of the surprise debt-ceiling agreement is that Trump is “myopically focused” on getting a tax-overhaul deal, Meadows said. The president’s legislative director, Marc Short, told reporters the three-month deal was intended to “clear the decks” for a tax overhaul.
Meadows said his group is floating a 16% corporate tax rate. He suggested a tax law needs to be enacted by Thanksgiving or it could face difficulty in a crowded December legislative crunch. He and Jordan didn’t say who they were meeting with at the White House.
Senate Republicans released a new version of a Harvey aid bill late Wednesday that included the debt-ceiling extension and would fund the government through Dec. 8. It also would nearly double disaster funding to $15.25 billion from what the House passed earlier in the day. The additional funding would to address housing needs in disaster zones.
Against that backdrop, members of the Freedom Caucus expressed frustration that their party has stumbled over the agenda it promised to voters if they were given control of Congress and the White House.
“The frustration is we’ve got a playbook and we’re not making progress,” said Davidson. “We’re rooting for a team win here.”
–With assistance from Sahil Kapur and Kevin Cirilli.
—Read The Megadeal Congress Should Strike This Month on ThinkAdvisor.