Punishment or pragmatism?

Huelskamp’s conservative zeal has its cost

By The Mercury

We ought to be disappointed that the Manhattan area’s representative in Congress, 1st District Rep. Tim Huelskamp, has been dropped from the House Budget and Agriculture committees.

A position on the Budget Committee can be hard to get, especially for a freshman from a “small” state, which Kansas is in terms of population.

Although the Speaker’s office hasn’t come right out and said it, our sense is that Rep. Huelskamp was dumped because Rep. John Boehner considered him part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

We agree.

The “problem” is avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The dramatic tax increases and sharp spending cuts that are to take effect early next month unless lawmakers strike a budget agreement are projected to bring the modest national recovery to a halt and perhaps propel us into another recession.

Preventing such an occurrence will require compromise, a concept that’s eluded partisans in a bitterly divided Congress. The compromise will require both spending cuts and tax increases, whether the latter take the form of scaling back or eliminating tax deductions, raising certain tax rates, or both.

Rep. Boehner recognizes this, President Barack Obama recognizes this, and most Americans not only recognize it but yearn for and even demand it.

Rep. Huelskamp, however, rejects it, as do an undetermined number of tea-party-backed extreme conservatives. Rep. Huelskamp takes his tax pledge seriously, which on one level is admirable. Overspending has contributed mightily to our national debt. On another level, his tax pledge — and his conviction that the budget be balanced by spending cuts alone — will make matters worse, not better, and are not in the best interests of our country or the 1st District. Certainly some of the spending cuts he supports — those that would add to the misery of America’s have-nots — must not be allowed.

Rep. Huelskamp is portraying his removal from the Budget Committee as “a vindictive move,” punishment that, according to his website, stemmed from the fact that “his consistent, principled and conservative votes have riled the GOP Establishment.”

There is some truth to that claim, but only some. In Congress, as in the Kansas Legislature and other legislative bodies, rank-and-file members of both parties often gain or lose influence based on their solidarity with leadership. To varying degrees under conservative, moderate and liberal leadership, that’s the way Congress has operated. Were the House Speaker an ideologically driven conservative instead of a relative moderate with pragmatic tendencies, Rep. Huelskamp’s star would shine much brighter than it does today.

Unfortunately for Rep. Huelskamp, America is in far greater need now of pragmatic moderates than of ideological zealots.

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