Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) was one of the members punished for bucking GOP leaders.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, the biggest story seemed to be the House Republican leadership's deeply silly debt-reduction offer, but there was another story that was arguably more important a little further from the spotlight.
Perhaps presaging a year in which revolts by rank-and-file members will be less tolerated, Republican leaders on Monday removed members with obstinate voting patterns from key committees.
Most notably, Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, one of the most conservative members of the House, was removed from the budget committee as well as the agriculture committee. Joining Mr. Huelskamp, a second-term representative, on the budget committee bye-bye list was Representative Justin Amash of Michigan.
Both members have a history of voting against party leaders on bills, both in committee and on the floor, and it seemed Speaker John A. Boehner and the committee chairmen had had enough. Mr. Huelskamp and Mr. Amash both rejected the so-called Ryan budget, proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, because its cuts were not deep enough.
At the same time, Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) lost their spots on the House Financial Services Committee.
There's no great mystery as to how and why this occurred -- the GOP leadership did not see these four lawmakers as "team players," and their perceived disloyalty came with a price. This also presumably sends a related message to the rest of the often-rancorous caucus that the party is keeping score and expects discipline.
There are multiple angles to a story like this. Is House Speaker John Boehner trying to lock up more power? How much were the committee chairs involved? Were some of the Republicans punished yesterday penalized for having endorsed Ron Paul's presidential campaign? And why does the leadership see the House Science Committee as the dumping ground for members they're upset with?
But the larger dynamic to keep an eye on is what this means for the Tea Partiers, especially those elected in 2010.
Remember, when House Republicans took control last year, they did so with an enormous freshman class that had no particular loyalty to Boehner. It was quite common in this Congress for the Speaker to take orders from his caucus, instead of the other way around, thanks the GOP's rebellious members.
For many Tea Partiers, this was something to be proud of -- they're "outsiders," the argument goes, who have no use for the entrenched establishment.
Yesterday's committee-assignment shakeups let these Tea Partiers know that recalcitrance comes with a price. Indeed, it's notable that three of the four lawmakers affected by yesterday's decision were freshmen elected in the 2010 wave.
The question, then, is what the far-right members intend to do about the renewed effort to establish party discipline. I suspect the answer is they'll fall in line, fearing additional sanctions, but it's worth watching.