House Republicans are concerned that “triangulation” has re-emerged this week, as the White House appears to have undercut GOP leaders’ position on the controversial issue of expanding the child tax credit.
While the Senate has already passed a $3.5 billion measure, House Republican leaders, led by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas), have held fast to the idea that the House would not vote on the Senate bill and would only consider the child credit measure as part of a larger tax-cut package.
But on Monday, without advance warning, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer pushed the House to move the bill quickly.
“[President Bush’s] advice to the House Republicans is to pass it, to send it to him so he can sign it,” Fleischer said. “He understands they’re going to take a look at some other tax matters. That’s their prerogative. But he wants to make certain that this does not get slowed down, bogged down.”
House Republicans were less than pleased by the message.
At a meeting with reporters Tuesday, DeLay was asked about Fleischer’s comment.
“Last time I checked he doesn’t have a vote,” DeLay snapped.
“People are definitely [angry],” said a senior House GOP leadership aide, explaining that many Members feel the White House is insufficiently grateful to the House for getting much of the administration’s agenda passed.
“We carry the water for them all the time and they cut the legs out from under us,” said the aide. “They should be careful.”
The White House did not return a call seeking comment.
Addressing House Republican leaders at their January retreat, White House adviser Karl Rove said the administration had sworn off triangulation, the practice of moving toward the political center at the expense of, in the GOP’s case, the more conservative House Republican Conference.
Then-President Bill Clinton often used similar tactics to isolate the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
Now, despite Rove’s pledge, House GOP leaders are concerned that the White House and the Senate have retreated in the face of Democratic attacks on the child tax credit issue, leaving House Republicans to defend the conservative position.
“The general feeling is a feeling of abandonment and that we can’t win,” said a senior Republican lawmaker.
House Republican leaders were incensed not just by what Fleischer said but by the fact that they were not given any advance notice that he would say it, according to aides.
Instead, leaders felt blindsided by the remarks and were forced to turn semantic somersaults to explain how the tax issue did not represent a gulf between Republicans on opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
As one Republican aide put it, Fleischer’s comments could be interpreted to mean either that the House should pass the Senate bill or that the House should hurry up in passing its own version. “We prefer to believe the second interpretation,” said the aide.
House Republicans plan to move forward with a larger bill. Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said Tuesday evening that his committee had crafted a package that would cost about $80 billion over 11 years and would be on the House floor later this week.
Asked Tuesday about the possibility that the House would just vote on the Senate version, DeLay responded, “Ain’t going to happen.”