House conservatives unloaded on their Republican leaders in two closed-door meetings Wednesday, a response to last week's maneuver to extend the so-called doc fix with an unexpected voice vote. Nevertheless, most members said they would not seek retribution by voting against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal next week.
Tensions flared initially at Wednesday morning's Republican Conference meeting over what conservatives called a "sneaky" decision by GOP leadership last Thursday to patch the sustainable growth rate requirement in the Medicare program with a simple voice vote, thereby avoiding a potentially disastrous roll-call vote.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who last week called leadership's decision "bullshit," let it be known that further discussion would be had at Wednesday afternoon's gathering of the Republican Study Committee.
Soon after, rumors started to circulate that some conservative members might vote against Ryan's budget proposal — which hits the House floor next week — as payback for the "doc fix" maneuver.
Perhaps seeking to head off any such orchestration, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor attended the RSC meeting seeking to quell concerns from the conservative rank and file. RSC members appreciated Cantor's presence and gave him an ovation for showing up — but only after giving him an earful for what happened last week.
"I'm getting used to being deceived by the Obama administration, but when my own leadership does it, it's just not acceptable," Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona said following the RSC meeting.
This alleged trickery was the focus of passionate speeches from Mulvaney, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, according to people in attendance. These conservatives, and more, used the occasion to "speak their mind to Leader Cantor," said a smiling Rep. Randy Weber of Texas.
RSC Chairman Steve Scalise took the rare step of removing staffers from the meeting room before the exchange with Cantor began, speaking to the intense frustration felt by some members — and the need to "ventilate" it, as Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana put it.
Cantor, according to members, expressed some regret over the voice-vote process. He said circumstances weren't ideal, with the current SGR patch expiring on Monday and several Republicans — including members of the "doc caucus" — expressing last-minute concerns.
"It was the least-bad option," Cantor told RSC members of the voice-vote decision, according to multiple people in attendance.
Some RSC members rejected that explanation. Others sympathized with the predicament faced by Cantor — who was flying solo on Thursday, with Speaker John Boehner out of town — and said they were prepared to move on from the incident.
Whatever the resolution, and despite the lingering tensions over the SGR vote, top conservatives indicated they will still support Ryan's fiscal 2015 House budget — and predicted it will have sufficient GOP support to pass on the floor next week, despite concerns about the top-line spending number.
"This is about a policy vision," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the former RSC chairman who voted against last year's budget compromise and the subsequent omnibus package.
Several other Republicans echoed that sentiment, saying that while they reject the overall spending figure for fiscal 2015, they support Ryan's efforts to work within it and define government spending by conservative standards. Ryan's new budget proposal, like several iterations before it, balances the federal government's books by defunding the Affordable Care Act, offering a voucher-style alternative to Medicare, and cutting spending on food stamps and Pell Grants.
The RSC will soon unveil its own budget document, which is offered annually as an amendment to the House GOP document — and meant to draw an ideological contrast within the party.
"If the RSC budget could pass, I might not vote for the Ryan budget," said Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, one of the House's most conservative members. "But I don't think the RSC budget can pass."
Indeed, last year's RSC blueprint — which balanced the budget in four years, compared with Ryan's 10 — could not muster enough votes on the House floor. The reason: It was too conservative for many Republicans.
Predictably, then, Ryan's budget won't be conservative enough for some in the GOP.
"We face an economic emergency as a nation. We've got to balance this budget right away," said Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, who's seeking the Republican Senate nomination against several House colleagues. When asked if 10 years isn't soon enough, Broun replied: "No. And that's not going to happen anyway. It's empty promises."
Republicans account for 233 of the 432 voting House members, with three seats currently vacant. With no Democrats expected to back Ryan's budget proposal, Boehner's leadership can afford to lose 16 Republicans and still pass the budget with the requisite 217 votes.