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Steve Scalise Hopes to Reposition RSC in Next Congress

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Rep. Steve Scalise is waging a battle over the direction of the Republican Study Committee, saying the conservative group has veered too far from its roots and does not effectively work with leadership to get things done.

The Louisiana Republican is hoping to upset the RSC leaders’ chosen successor, Rep. Tom Graves (Ga.), and return the RSC to what he called a “Member-driven organization,” rather than a group whose positions are dictated from the top.

“The RSC needs to be the conservative conscience of the House Republicans. If you are effective, you are working with whoever is in leadership to pass a conservative agenda, to push the policy as far to the right as we can. Sometimes they will agree with us. Sometimes we will disagree with them,” Scalise said.

Scalise, who is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he believed his main difference from Graves, an appropriator, is more in style than on policy positions.

“Who’s walked the walk and actually passed legislation?” Scalise asked. “It’s not enough just to talk about conservative values. We need to pass conservative policy. I have a strong record of accomplishment over years of doing that.”

The three-term lawmaker referenced his work building support for his amendment to a fiscal 2011 continuing resolution that eliminated funding for four high-level White House “czars” who specialized in health care, the automobile industry, urban affairs and climate change.

Usually, the RSC’s founding members and former chairmen choose the next leader. As first reported by Politico, Reps. Dan Burton (Ind.) and Sam Johnson (Texas), the only founders still in office, chose Graves, as did Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Sue Myrick (N.C), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Tom Price (Ga.), all former chairmen of the group.

But Scalise said he has filed a petition signed by more than 25 percent of the group’s members, meeting the threshold for requiring an election of the next chairman.

Scalise has put together a whip operation that he said he hopes will get his campaign support from a number of conservatives. He is being aided by several allies, including a freshman, Rep. Cory Gardner (Colo.), and a veteran, Rep. Joe Pitts (Pa.).

Graves, who first came to Congress in a special election in June 2010, has run a decidedly out-of-the-spotlight campaign and declined to be interviewed for this report.

“While I am grateful for the broad support of RSC members and the unanimous recommendation by the founders, my current focus is on expanding our conservative majority. It’s then, after November 6th, when I will refocus my attention to leading the RSC as the next Chairman,” Graves said in an email.

One Member who is supporting Scalise said there has been some dissatisfaction with the internal squabbles in the GOP this Congress, including the battle over whether to pass a budget with a lower figure than the Budget Control Act number agreed to last year by House and Senate leaders.

“There’s some concern among some Members about the direction the RSC has gone. They want someone who is a proven conservative, a fighter, but at the end of the day goes along with leadership,” the Member said. “If there’s an RSC position and a still-conservative but somewhat less conservative Conference position, don’t have the RSC actively undercutting the leadership position.”

Members will vote by secret ballot on the afternoon of Nov. 15 at a one- to two-hour long Members-only lunch meeting, according to an email announcement obtained by Roll Call. Only Members and Members-elect who have submitted signed RSC membership forms can vote.

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