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GOP Leaders Devise Incentives for the Wayward

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

House Republican leaders are hoping to use incentives ranging from promising floor action on bills to appearances by leadership in Members’ districts as a reward for loyalty and a bid to avoid future breakdowns on the chamber floor.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and his team had vowed to punish disloyalty before last month’s disastrous continuing resolution vote, but in the end, dozens of Members broke ranks anyway.

But without the traditional enticement of earmarks and faced with a Conference that could see punishments as badges of honor, Boehner and his team are opting to encourage loyalty from the rank and file.

“You give them a bigger megaphone when you turn them into a martyr,” a GOP aide said, explaining that helping lawmakers gain attention for their causes, allowing them to take on prominent roles in key debates and helping them raise their profiles can breed loyalty without the downside of relying solely on the stick.

Not that leadership did not seriously consider repercussions for lawmakers who broke with them on the CR. Several lawmakers bore the brunt of leadership’s ire, most notably freshman Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), who has a coveted position on the Appropriations Committee.

Old bulls within the party, as well as key members of leadership, singled out Graves, arguing that he should have his spot on the committee stripped to teach other Members a lesson.

But Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) were unconvinced and worried that doing so could have the opposite effect.

“The Tom Graves of the world would be seen like a martyr,” and it would not have been a teachable moment if leadership had ended up meting out punishment, a GOP leadership aide argued.

Indeed, there have already been signs that bucking leadership has paid off for some Members. Rep. Jeff Landry (R), whose district was basically eliminated when Louisiana redrew its Congressional lines, is running an insurgent campaign against leadership favorite Rep. Charles Boustany (R). Landry has had significant fundraising success by casting himself as the outsider.

“There’s this hatred of Washington, this hatred of Congress,” a leadership aide said, adding that former Majority Leader “Tom Delay [R-Texas] would not have gotten away with throwing [Rep.] Chris Smith [R-N.J.] off” the Veteran Affairs Committee in the current climate. In 2005, top House Republicans, led by DeLay, stripped Smith of his chairmanship of and slot on that panel in retaliation for breaking with leadership over veterans funding.

“Some wanted old-school retribution, [but] younger guys didn’t want to do that,” the aide said of Graves.

In fact, one leadership aide argued that even if they could have avoided the problem of martyrdom, the political climate simply doesn’t lend itself to strong-arm tactics.

In the end, Boehner, Cantor and their leadership team decided that while punishing wayward Members wasn’t a viable option, some action was needed to avoid the sort of defections that resulted during the CR fight. And it would need to be more than an empty gesture.

After several discussions, leadership last week agreed that the best solution was to use incentives for loyal soldiers as a way to maintain discipline and coax the wayward back into the fold.

For instance, according to aides, if two freshmen have jobs bills on the same topic, the Member who has shown loyalty would see action on his measure while the other would not.

Likewise, lawmakers could be brought into press conferences and other events with leadership, or could be tapped to take the lead on messaging efforts.

Outside of the Dome, members of leadership and chairmen could also be enlisted to headline official events in the districts of Members who have toed the party line, a boon for lawmakers who often struggle to break through with the local media.

Those sorts of outside efforts could also lead to a major ancillary benefit to lawmakers — fundraising.

Federal law prohibits leaders from offering donations or help in raising cash in return for votes, and aides stress that at no time during their discussions did leaders contemplate such an arrangement.

Still, there is no denying that Boehner, Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — as well as many of the chamber’s chairmen — are much sought-after fundraisers, particularly for lawmakers facing difficult re-elections or for freshmen who do not have a substantial bullpen of top-dollar donors.

Boehner has long been one of the GOP’s best fundraisers, and he remains a popular figure within Republican circles.

In the last cycle, Cantor and McCarthy also demonstrated their heavyweight status in the fundraising game through their “Young Guns” project. With both leaders already ramping up their campaigning and fundraising efforts, special attention from them will likely be a sought-after commodity, particularly for those freshmen they helped bring to Washington in the first place.

Ironically, a number of those freshmen have repeatedly claimed in public they are not concerned about losing re-election — and continually make use of the anti-Washington trope in their public statements.

But veteran lawmakers who have mentored some of these younger firebrands insist they are focused on their re-elections and, like their more senior colleagues, will go to great lengths to remain in Congress.

“It works for them. We get that,” one veteran aide said of freshmen’s insistence that they remain anti-Washington.

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