GOP leaders remove four from plum House committees

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John

Boehner's decision to take plum committee assignments away from four

conservative Republican

lawmakers after they bucked party leaders on key votes isn't going

over well with advocacy groups that viewed them as role

models.

Reps. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan will lose their seats on the House Budget Committee chaired by

Rep. Paul Ryan next year. And Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and David Schweikert of Arizona are losing their seats

on the House Financial Services Committee.

The move is underscoring a divide in the

Republican Party between tea party-supported conservatives and the House

GOP leadership.

"This is a clear attempt on the part of

Republican leadership to punish those in Washington who vote the way

they promised

their constituents they would — on principle — instead of

mindlessly rubber-stamping trillion dollar deficits and the bankrupting

of America," said Matt Kibbe, president of the tea party group

FreedomWorks.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, would only say Tuesday that the party's steering committee chaired by the speaker

made the decision "based on a range of factors."

Groups aligned with the tea party movement

were generally big supporters of Huelskamp, Amash and Schweikert. Jones

is viewed

more as a conservative maverick than a tea party Republican. He

has frequently siding against GOP leaders on a range of issues

over the years. For example, he voted against the GOP budget

because he opposed the changes proposed for Medicare.

Schweikert said it was made clear to him "I should vote for the team more."

"Look, we're walking into the 113th Congress with a smaller majority," Schweikert said. "I would have though the fixation

would have been family unity. This isn't the way you start a family meeting."

"The GOP leadership might think they have

silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees

only confirms

our conservative convictions," Huelskamp said in a statement

Tuesday. "This is clearly a vindictive move and a sure sign that

the GOP establishment cannot handle disagreement."

All four lawmakers had voted against the

summer 2011 deal negotiated between Republican leaders and President

Barack Obama

for extending the government's ability to borrow money in exchange

for $1 trillion in spending cuts and the promise of another

$1 trillion in reduced deficits. Three of the four, the exception

being Schweikert, voted against the Ryan-written GOP budget

blueprint that the House passed last March.

Their removal from key committees with jurisdiction over the two issues was viewed by some as a signal to other Republican

lawmakers to look favorably on whatever final deal Boehner and Obama put together to avert a "fiscal cliff" combination of

automatic tax increases and spending cuts in January.

"It's sending a clear message to get behind the leadership no matter what the policy is, and that is contrary to what the

Republicans supposedly stand for," Freedomworks' Kibbe said.

"If it was intended to be a signal, it's going to be a weak signal because the majority of conservatives are going to do what

they think is right based on principle," Jones, the North Carolina congressman, said.

Amash said he has not been told specifically why he was removed, only that it was not based on his votes and that he should

go talk to leadership. He said he voted with the Budget Committee's leadership 95 percent of the time. He said the move is

likely to make him more independent in the future.

"Being nice to leadership and playing well with them doesn't pay off," Amash said. "They expect a near total agreement with

their approach."

The changes in committee assignments could bring about more discipline from the GOP on high-priority issues next Congress,

but conservatives were taking the news as an attack on their priorities.

"As the sun rises this morning we can look

at John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy and know the opposition

is not

just across the aisle, but in charge of our own side in the House

of Representatives," Erick Erickson wrote on the conservative

website, RedState. "All the time and energy I would otherwise have

to spend to convince conservatives that these gentlemen

would be a problem for the GOP has been spared. They've proven it

themselves."