The group of conservatives in the House of Representatives that calls itself The Freedom Caucus is headed, seemingly, by Mark Meadows of South Carolina.
The Freedom Caucus stands for… well, let them tell you themselves. But I get the general drift that it’s for fiscal conservativism, for freedom, for lots of stuff that motivated the Tea Party when there was a Tea Party.
All of that sounds good but when it gets in the way of a functioning Republican majority in Congress it sounds and awful lot like blah blah blah.
So the Wall Street Journal has called Meadows out.
For Those Who Can’t Get Past The Paywall, I hereby commit this misdemeanor: I cut and paste, and you read. The “editorial board” has it right. Meadows should step up, win or lose, then lead or sit down and shut up. This Republican majority in the House is an embarrassment.
The WSJ Editorial follows:
The Washington Post reports that defrocked White House aide Steve Bannon and Members of the House Freedom Caucus are plotting a coup to depose Paul Ryan as Speaker later this fall. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows denied this on Friday on MSNBC, but you can bet something is afoot. And come to think of it, why wait?
If the Freedom Caucus is upset enough to contemplate a mid-session leadership coup, let’s get it on now. Congress is entering a critical few months that will determine whether Republicans will have anything significant to show for their majority. If the fate of this Congress hangs in the balance, then it’s unconscionable to wait and let the House fail. The manly—the patriotic—thing to do is force a debate and vote while there’s still time to save the day.
This has the added advantage of being a stab in the front for a change. The Freedom Caucus specialty is the stab in the back. Claim to be cooperative, to be working constructively toward some legislative compromise, but then at a critical moment raise its demands, vote no and blame the leadership. Soak up the cable-TV appearances and then sit back as someone else cleans up the political mess.
This is how Mr. Meadows played the ObamaCare repeal debate earlier this year. As House leaders and HHS Secretary Tom Price prepared the draft bill, Mr. Meadows was regularly consulted. According to numerous sources, Mr. Meadows’ priority in private discussions was killing any reduction, even a small one, in the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance.
For conservative health economists, this is a crucial policy reform. It would reduce a subsidy that drives up health-care costs, and it would begin to equalize the tax treatment for individual and employer insurance. But Mr. Meadows opposed it as a “tax increase,” a definition which would mean that Congress could never reduce any tax subsidy.
Mr. Meadows worked frantically behind the scenes to make sure there was no change in the tax exclusion, without objecting to other provisions. GOP leaders gave him what he wanted and killed the tax change. But within days Mr. Meadows began trashing the draft bill anyway—this time because it supposedly didn’t reduce insurance costs enough. His assault defeated the first attempt at a House vote, and delay its passage for weeks, helping Democrats build public opposition and making it a much harder lift in the Senate, where it failed.
With this record of accomplishment, clearly it’s time for Mr. Meadows to step into the spotlight and take some leadership responsibility. The honorable act now would be to announce an immediate challenge to Mr. Ryan surrounded by his Freedom Caucus supporters and Mr. Bannon’s Breitbart staff.
Lay out his strategy for passing tax reform, for raising the debt limit, and for passing the Freedom Caucus budget through the House and the Senate this fall. Then the Members of the House GOP conference can hold a debate and vote, and Mr. Meadows and the country can see how much support he has for his political strategy compared to Mr. Ryan.
If Mr. Meadows is too modest, or thinks he can’t win, then perhaps his Freedom Caucus running mate, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, would want to run. And if Mr. Jordan declines the honor, then perhaps Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert will want to exploit the high regard with which he is held by his colleagues.
This is the way a congressional majority is supposed to work. Individuals run for leadership, the Members vote, and then everyone accepts the results and moves on together. That’s what Democrat Steny Hoyer did after he lost to Nancy Pelosi in 2002, and Democrats proceeded to govern in unified fashion after they won the House in 2006.
If Mr. Meadows wants to stage a coup, he should do it publicly by putting his agenda and strategy front and center for everyone to see. Take the dagger out from under the toga, Mark, and show your colleagues that lean and hungry look. Then let’s hold a vote.
Appeared in the September 9, 2017, print edition.
Gibson note: for the record, I agree.