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Meet the Freedom Caucus’ new insiders on House Appropriations

Holdouts in speaker election primed to influence spending panel's direction

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., is seen outside a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., is seen outside a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

​In recent weeks, conservative House lawmakers have been sporting pins shaped like AR-15s provided by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., garnering the attention of many and the ire of some Democrats. 

On Twitter, Clyde takes credit for “triggering” some of his Democratic colleagues with the pins. With his bombastic style and desire to slash government spending, the gun store owner is bringing a different approach to the House Appropriations Committee than his more moderate Republican colleagues. 

The two new House Freedom Caucus members of the Appropriations Committee, Clyde and Michael Cloud, R-Texas, were both part of the group of initial holdouts against Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid. 

The duo is moving the Appropriations Committee to the ideological right and could challenge the old joke that there are three parties in Washington — Democrats, Republicans and appropriators.

Their addition is doubling the number of Freedom Caucus members on Appropriations — Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., and Ben Cline, R-Va., also serve on the committee. Both Clyde and Cloud are eager to cut appropriations to the fiscal 2022 topline level that McCarthy, R-Calif., promised during the speakership election, and potentially further. 

Clyde said he believes Appropriations Committee Republicans “absolutely” have been too moderate, historically. 

“If the people on these committees of influence are all toward the more moderate side of the conference, they’re going to create a more moderate bill,” Clyde said. “How in the world will the folks on the more conservative side of the conference get on board? We only have a five-seat majority. So I think that actually empowers the speaker better to get to 218, when you have input from both sides.” 

Spending levels

Clyde — a second-term lawmaker from a deep-red district he carried by 45 points in November — said his top goal on the committee is to hold the conference accountable to McCarthy’s promise to write bills at the fiscal 2022 topline level. That would require over $130 billion in cuts from the December omnibus package.

“I would personally prefer to see it go to 2019, because that would be pre-pandemic,” Clyde said. “That’s got to be the primary focus, to realign our spending in a nonpandemic environment. I think there are significant savings that can be achieved from nondefense discretionary spending.” 

Cloud, first elected in 2018 to represent a southeast Texas district, said the fiscal 2022 topline, which was still a robust $1.5 trillion, is a “good place to start.” He’s taking an analytical approach in describing his aims for the committee, saying he is committed to identifying wasteful spending and making the government more efficient. 

Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, participates in the House Republicans’ press conference following their caucus meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“This is about us being effective in what we’re funding,” he said. “The road to $34 trillion in debt is paved with good intentions, and we need to be effective at what we’re doing.” 

Cutting to fiscal 2022 levels would equate to an 8 percent decrease across the board. If defense spending is untouched, nondefense programs would face a more drastic 18 percent reduction from current appropriations. 

Democrats are alarmed by the scale of the proposed cuts, with House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., saying such cuts would harm programs that help working families as well as law enforcement, national security and the environment. 

Republican appropriators, including Chairwoman Kay Granger of Texas, have stated explicitly that they will not support cutting defense spending.

Despite his desire to limit overall spending, Clyde said he sees room for some “moderate increases” in defense spending, as the U.S. needs to replenish weapons sent to Ukraine. However, he said there is room for savings in cutting defense programs relating to the “woke agenda,” though he did not offer specific programs he thought should be on the chopping block. 

Cloud said he believes appropriators “should look at everything,” including defense. He also pointed to “woke” Defense Department programming as a place for cuts and said some areas of the defense budget need increases, such as shipbuilding. 

“When I’m looking at defense, the question I’m asking is, is this making us a more lethal fighting force?” he said. “Because we have real adversaries.” 

Both Clyde and Cloud said it is too early to identify specific programs they are looking to cut from the budget as the appropriations process is just getting started.

However, Clyde, whose shop in Athens, Ga., is called the Clyde Armory, said he will be taking a close look at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives budget in his role on the Commerce-Justice-Science panel.

Cloud, who is on the Homeland Security subcommittee, said he believes there is significant waste, fraud and abuse in the Department of Homeland Security’s management of the border, and said the federal government is spending too much in paying nongovernmental organizations to transport migrants. 

McCarthy factor 

Both of the new Freedom Caucus appropriators rose in prominence for their role in delaying McCarthy’s election as speaker, which took the most ballots since before the Civil War. Both Cloud and Clyde voted against McCarthy on the first 11 ballots, before switching their votes on the 12th. 

Cloud said some of the “internal wranglings” between those seeking concessions and McCarthy and his team fell apart right before the first vote, which led to the messy public process. Cloud said he’s confident his group secured structural changes to the way the House operates, including an open floor amendment process, during its holdout against McCarthy. 

Clyde said he switched his vote in part because of McCarthy’s promise to cut spending to fiscal 2022 levels. Additionally, Clyde said McCarthy’s decision to set the threshold for a “motion to vacate” — or the ability to call a vote to oust the speaker — at one lawmaker, and his promise to add more conservatives to key committees like Appropriations inspired his switch. 

Both Clyde and Cloud said they did not receive any explicit promise from McCarthy that they would be seated on Appropriations in exchange for their votes for speaker.

“There was no agreement to put Andrew  Clyde on Appropriations,” Clyde said. “I had to fight for that, and I’m happy that I won.” 

Committee work

All Republican members will have some say in drafting the bills their subcommittees come up with. However, the biggest opportunity for Clyde and Cloud to cause a stir on the committee could come as members mark up the bills.

While most amendments in committee are accepted or rejected on party-line votes, Clyde, Cloud and other conservative members of the committee could make their more moderate colleagues take difficult votes on both policy and funding matters. 

“When you’re in the majority, you get to write the bills,” Cloud said. “Sometimes the right process is just going to be picking up the phone and saying, ‘Hey, how about we get this in there?’ And sometimes the right process is going to be, ‘OK, let’s get an amendment in to get something done.’ So we’ll be looking at all those avenues.”  

Harris, the most senior member of the Freedom Caucus on the committee, is well-respected by his peers on the panel, multiple senior appropriators said. If the new members follow Harris’ example, they will fit in well on the committee, Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said. 

Amodei said having more Freedom Caucus members on the committee should make the rest of the group have more confidence in the bills the appropriators put together. 

“I think that everybody’s impressions of various committees are improved when they actually have a vote on it,” he said. “Just like a lot of people who criticize people in elected office, it’s like, ‘Now that you’re on the city council, let’s see how you do when you have a vote.’” 

Other senior Republican appropriators said they welcome the new members of the committee. 

“They’ll have opinions and ideas, and they will be considered along with the varied opinions and ideas of the other members,” Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Steve Womack, R-Ark., said. “I think it’s a good thing to have all corners of our conference represented on these committees, and if they feel like they’ve not had a voice, this is that opportunity.”