Justin Amash has been hailed as the “next Ron Paul.” Those are awfully high expectations for the Michigan Republican, now entering his second House term, and Amash knows it. “There is no next Ron Paul,” he told a Paul rally at the Republican National Convention. “He is one of a kind.”
Weeks before the next Congress even starts, Amash is already blazing his own path. Along with Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, he has been kicked off the House Budget Committee. Their sin? Last year they voted against their party’s official, Paul Ryan-crafted budget and supported a conservative alternative instead.
The alternative spending blueprint balanced the budget in five years. The latest Ryan plan didn’t achieve balance for another 23 years after that. Ryan’s handiwork only cleared the House Budget Committee—which he chairs—by a narrow 19-18 vote, thanks to these defections.
All told, four conservatives were stripped of their preferred committee assignments by the Republican leadership for not falling in line. Amidst reports that secret litmus tests and “score cards” were used to enforce party discipline, one Republican said the purged congressmen simply didn’t play well with others—something he civilly referred to as the “a—hole factor.”
Leslie Shedd, spokeswoman for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, told Politico, “It had to do with their inability to work with other members, which some people might refer to as the a-hole factor.” (Shedd said her boss later conceded that he should have made a better choices of words, insisting, “he did not and would not call another member of Congress an a—hole.”)
“The fight has obscured an important shift in insider House politics, as these were the first members pulled off committees as punishment for political or personality reasons in nearly two decades,” Politico’s Jonathan Allen went on to report. “Even Tom DeLay, the fearsome majority leader known for hardball tactics, drew the line there.”
Amash is drawing a line of his own. He called his removal from the Budget Committee a “slap in the face.” He told reporters, “If Speaker Boehner wants to come back to my district, he’s not going to be met with very much welcome.” Amash even left the door open to supporting another candidate for speaker.
10 days since committee purge. Still no explanation from GOP leadership. #ShowUsTheScorecard
— Justin Amash (@repjustinamash) December 13, 2012
The dust-up could mark a turning point for Amash. During his freshman term, he carried on Ron Paul’s tradition of voting against bills not explicitly authorized by the Constitution and opposing wars that aren’t in America’s interest. But he was generally much more conciliatory toward leadership.
No more. Amash has been adamant that he lost his committee assignment without notice or explanation. And he hasn’t been shy about using his penchant for social networking websites to speak out, tweeting, “10 days since committee purge. Still no explanation from GOP leadership.”
Last week Amash’s Twitter feed read like a running indictment of the Republican establishment. “Personal attacks typify DC dysfunction,” he wrote. “Politicians find it easier to name-call than to respectfully explain own votes when they disagree.” He observed, “Only in Washington, DC, is a person taken off of the Budget Committee for wanting to balance the budget.”
“Old GOP doesn’t tolerate dissent or independent thinking,” the 32-year-old congressman continued. “New Republicans like me are open to people from all walks of life.” And he has become more aggressive in publicly challenging the leadership on issues, noting that Boehner was proposing an $18.4 trillion national debt by 2022 to Obama’s $18.9 trillion.
Slate’s David Weigel called this a “very un-Paul like” tactic. While the retiring Texas congressman was uncompromising in his votes, he was more mild-mannered in his public posture. Then again, Paul had an informal deal with the Republican leadership: the Good Doctor could vote however he wanted as long as he was civil in public and reliable on House procedures.
If the leadership is informing Amash and other independent-minded conservatives that this deal is off, it may be to the party’s detriment. The committee purge seems to have both elevated and further radicalized Amash and his colleagues, hardening them against Boehner’s team.
Party bosses may soon discover that it is better to have Amash inside the tent than making trouble outside it.
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.