Tortilla Coast Group Tight-Lipped

Posted October 15, 2013 at 1:44pm

The day after a group of rebellious House Republicans met with Sen. Ted Cruz in the basement of a Capitol Hill restaurant, lawmakers were cagey about what exactly they discussed.

A number of lawmakers confirmed they participated in the dinner meeting with the Texas GOP senator at Tortilla Coast late Monday night, but they declined to offer details.

“Just talking what we do when the Senate passes something, what’s our strategy going forward with that,” Marlin Stutzman of Indiana said. He added that he was willing to see what the House and Senate could come up with, “but, you know, I know that it’s not enough for me.”

Asked if they were plotting a revolt over a dish of guacamole, most members laughed off the question.

“I don’t know. I don’t know if they got it in there,” Louie Gohmert of Texas said as he entered Tuesday’s GOP Conference meeting.

“That’s quite a question this morning,” said Steve King of Iowa.

Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho said he wanted to hear what GOP leaders had to say before he could answer that.

What leadership had to say was unexpected, however. They told members that they would attempt to send the Senate a proposal that would suspend the Obamacare medical device tax for two years and eliminate health care benefits for lawmakers and Cabinet officials, though not congressional staff.

The bill would not include a provision to eliminate an Obamacare fee on reinsuring health plans. That provision was under consideration as part of a still emerging Senate bipartisan plan.Overall, the House proposal would fund the government until Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, according to lawmakers and aides.

But the Tortilla Coast group declined to give their thoughts on the new House GOP leadership plan.

“No comment,” Labrador said repeatedly after the Republican Conference meeting.

“No comment,” said Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who was also at the Tortilla Coast dinner.

Pressed on why they would hold a secret meeting at Tortilla Coast, Massie responded: “Wasn’t very secret, was it?”

Indeed, it was not very secret. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spotted the group, and so did many other lawmakers, who said Tortilla Coast was the place to be Monday night because the Capitol Hill Club was closed.

Among the lawmakers who noticed the meeting was Mississippi Republican Gregg Harper.

“I went to dinner. I was by myself. I was invited to join a group with Kevin McCarthy and just had a nice visit,” Harper said.

Harper joked that he bought dinner for four members and was “upset that wasn’t reported” in CQ Roll Call’s initial story.

“I took care of them,” Harper said of his $15 tip on a $67-and-change bill.

When asked if he stopped by the basement to say hello to the group downstairs, he said no.

“I didn’t drop down. I don’t drop in on places I’m not invited,” Harper said. He added that he wasn’t sure if he was invited, “I didn’t get the email, let’s say.”

Harper theorized that the assembled group talked about “maybe the quality of the enchiladas, I don’t know exactly.”

Justin Amash of Michigan, who was at the meeting, said it was nothing nefarious.

“Senators and representatives meet all the time. Nothing unusual about that,” he said.

Asked whether the group might support or oppose the new House plan, Amash said he wanted to “wait and see what the proposal is.”

He might not have much time. Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said GOP leadership was moving ahead with the plan, and House Rules is supposed to meet on the revised bill Tuesday.

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.