The House Freedom Caucus is trying to be reasonable on the budget

That doesn’t mean caucus members don’t understand—or perhaps even sympathize with—the pressures that House leadership faces. “In their defense, they believe that a deal has been made and that we need to stick to the deal,” says Representative Mark Meadows. But what upsets Freedom Caucusers—hurts their feelings, if you get right down to it—is that no one is giving them a lick of credit for working so hard to come up with a solution.

Budget tensions during an election year run especially high. To avoid a new wave of abuse from the Senate and White House, Ryan needs to pass a budget resolution with the 10-70 top line. Caucus members get that, and many are willing to hold their noses and back the higher level. “We would vote for the crap sandwich number!” says Brat. But! In exchange, they want—make that need—something they can point to as a victory for the cause. “This matters tremendously to the Republican conservative brand,” says Brat.

What kind of something? On this point, Freedom Caucusers are flexible, and for the past few months they have indeed been throwing ideas at leadership with both hands. Proposals range from the grand to the ticky-tacky. Some would immediately whack spending. Brat, for instance, wants to directly offset the extra $30 billion in discretionary spending with a $30 billion cut in entitlements.