Pursuing Unclear Concessions, House Freedom Caucus Nearly Derails Tax Bill Conference

WASHINGTON ― In a strange gambit that left many aides and House members scratching their heads, the Freedom Caucus nearly took down a motion to go to conference on the GOP tax bill Monday night in order to change the expiration date of an upcoming government continuing resolution.

Stranger yet: The strategy seemed to work.

About a dozen House Freedom Caucus members initially voted against a motion for the House and Senate to negotiate on their differing tax bills, blocking the motion from adoption. But after a tense conversation on the floor between leaders of the conservative caucus and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and chief deputy whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) ― as well as an off-the-floor phone conversation between HFC Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ― the conservatives flipped their votes to allow the tax bill to go to conference.

After the vote, Meadows wouldn’t say he got “an ironclad commitment” to change the expiration date of the continuing resolution, which is needed this week to prevent a government shutdown, but he heavily suggested that conservatives had forced GOP leadership to move the date from Dec. 22 to at least Dec. 30, and potentially even later. “I felt very good about the dialogue I had with the speaker,” Meadows said.

Meadows added that he thought there was a better chance the resolution would go to the 30th, but there isn’t a clear sense of why conservatives feel so strongly that going a few days past Christmas is so much more preferable to a resolution that expires a few days before Christmas.

“This doesn’t seem to accomplish anything material,” one senior GOP aide told HuffPost after the vote Monday night, “unless their goal is to screw up people’s Christmas plans — and that’s just mean.”

Freedom Caucus members seemed to think there would be more pressure for members to accept a raw deal on the 22nd than there would be on the 30th. “There is a whole lot more pressure to get home for Christmas than there is for New Year’s,” Meadows told reporters Monday night.

But no one among GOP or Democratic leadership could explain how this changes the dynamics of a year-end spending deal. Democrats still have the leverage by virtue of Republicans controlling government. (Voters tend to blame the party in power for a government shutdown, and Republicans need Democratic votes if they’re going to pass any of these spending deals.)

Worse yet for Republicans, GOP…

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