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House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) said on Friday that he chose not to join senior Republicans in establishing a new policy development group because he believes it could undermine House efforts to hone a stronger GOP identity.
Instead of potentially diluting their message by outsourcing its development to outside players, McCotter said, House Members should focus on engaging the Democratic majority as an entrepreneurial insurgency and continue to build their strength from within the Conference.
We should be focusing on doing the little things right and building on them, McCotter told Roll Call. We have to do it every single day in the House.
He added, I hope [the new group] augments it but I worry that it may overwhelm it.
McCotter is the only member of the House leadership team who declined to participate in the National Council for a New America, a new policy group launched by Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on April 30.
The group, which includes House and Senate Republican leaders, governors and former top state officials, will hold town-hall-style meetings across the country in an effort to recast the weakened party in the eyes of voters. The first meeting was held Saturday in Arlington, Va.
Cantor said the idea of the road show is to gather ideas from outside the Beltway to shape the Republican agenda.
This is not the first time McCotter has opted out of the GOP mainstream.
His decision to run the policy committee as a think tank rather than an agenda-setting arm of the Conference has attracted quiet criticism from his colleagues.
McCotter told Roll Call in an interview earlier this year that the policy committee was not intended to be on the front lines of debate.
The policy committee allows Members to step out of the grind and think broadly about how to respond to the Democratic majority, McCotter said.
He said he preferred the post to higher-profile positions because it allowed him to work on long-term strategies behind the scenes with small groups of Members rather than jumping into the battle of the moment.
This is not a look at me moment, he said. That is not our job, especially in the minority.
Several Members who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the policy committee should be a stronger force in the minority since the Democrats have effectively monopolized lawmaking and legislating in the 111th Congress.
In the minority, the policy committee has a great opportunity that it does not have in the majority, one Member said. We need to figure out how to use that in the minority, now that we dont have the bigger operation.
The policy committee should be working to help set the minoritys agenda, another Member said. It should generate ideas in a more coherent direction.
Part of it is [McCotters] idiosyncratic style, the Member added.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), defended McCotter and explained that policy committee members are active in each of the Republican groups that have formed on every major issue from energy to health care.
We have solutions groups on numerous major issues, and policy committee folks are involved in all of them, he said.
One GOP aide said the criticism stems from the policy committees generally ambiguous mission. As a result, the committee has functioned differently under each person elected to lead it.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about what the policy committee should do, the aide said.
McCotter is a staunch conservative, but he has bucked the party on several key votes. For instance, he is running for re-election in a Detroit-area district devastated by the collapse of the auto industry, and he voted for the auto industry bailout that was opposed by GOP leaders.