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Club for Growth Revels in Relevance

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The Club for Growth’s former president, Sen. Pat Toomey, has emerged as a top negotiator on the super committee.

For a decade, the Club for Growth aggressively spent millions of dollars supporting campaigns to elect free-market Members to Congress.

Now, the club is reaping the benefits with newfound relevance on Capitol Hill among Republicans, and nowhere is its influence more concentrated than on the super committee — to the chagrin of some of the more centrist Republican Members.

The cash-flush club is best known for influencing elections, sometimes spending heavily to target moderate GOP Members in favor of more conservative challengers. But politicking takes a backseat these days at the club, which has recently focused more on influencing the policy debate.

“I would say the club has had tangible impact on the policy direction of the Republican House and the Senate,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a Friday phone interview. “The debate has changed, the world has changed. We’re actually talking about how much less we’ll spend instead of how much more we’ll spend.”

Most notably, the club’s former president, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), has emerged as a top negotiator on the super committee.

Toomey drew up the GOP’s offer last week of $250 billion in revenue increases — part of a $1.2 trillion package that included lowering the marginal tax rate and extending the Bush-era tax cuts. Chocola, a former Indiana Congressman, said his group believes Toomey’s proposal to be “likely pro-growth” — a strong suggestion that it could receive the group’s blessing — but Democrats have publicly shot down that offer.

Chocola said he speaks regularly with Toomey and another super committee member, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), but he does not specifically lobby them on super committee negotiations.

“I don’t have to talk to those guys about what’s pro-growth. They know it,” Chocola said. “That’s exactly what the club does. When [our candidates] get into positions of influence, we have great comfort they will do the right thing.”

But some could argue that the club’s policy influence is felt more deeply through the stick than the carrot. The threat of a club-backed primary challenge looms large for many Members, including Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a super committee member who has received poor marks from the club for his voting record.

Earlier this month, club officials told reporters they were “impressed” with a potential Upton primary challenger, former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, after meeting with him. Some Republicans criticized the club’s veiled threat in the middle of negotiations, including another Michigan GOP Member, Rep. Mike Rogers.

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