When 23 Republicans voted with Democrats to approve the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday, they also voted against the recommendation of the conservative Heritage Action, the advocacy sister group of The Heritage Foundation.
Heritage Action, founded in 2010, has been issuing “key vote” alerts for both House and Senate Republicans to include in its member scorecards, designed to serve as a conservative litmus test for GOP lawmakers. But so far in 2013, for every vote Heritage has dubbed “key,” enough Republicans have defected to pass that bill into law.
“The Key Votes that appear on Heritage Action’s Legislative Scorecard empower Americans to hold their Members of Congress accountable to conservative principles,” Heritage Action’s website reads, regarding the purpose of its program. “Our votes are sometimes tough and we don’t apologize for it. We’re conservatives, not tenured professors, and we don’t grade on a curve.
Before Tuesday’s VAWA vote, Heritage Action flagged votes on the fiscal-cliff deal, Senate filibuster changes and Sandy disaster relief as “key” and urged Republicans to vote “no.”
Forty-one Senate Republicans voted for the fiscal-cliff deal, which levied $650 billion in new revenue; 29 Senate Republicans voted for modest Senate procedural changes; and seven Senate GOP Members, many from Gulf states, voted to approve disaster relief aid. In the House, 85 Republicans voted to approve the year-end tax deal and 49 Republicans voted for the final Sandy aid package.
In the 112th Congress, Senate Republicans voted with the Heritage Action’s recommendations 73 percent of the time, while House Republicans did so 66 percent of the time, according to Heritage Action’s website.
But the political dynamics have shifted since last Congress, both for lawmakers and for Heritage. Republicans, after a wave election in 2010, failed to retake the White House or Senate majority in 2012. And Heritage, the almost 30-year-old GOP think tank, has tacked to the right and tapped a new leader at the end of 2012 — former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. A tea party favorite, DeMint had Heritage Action’s most conservative scorecard last Congress, voting with the group’s recommendations 99 percent of the time.
The electoral results, change of leadership and even relative disregard for the “key vote” alerts in 2013 to date, however, are not going to force a change in Heritage Action’s thinking anytime soon. And even on VAWA, the group’s recommendations still could hold sway with the House GOP caucus, which did not act on the reauthorization in 2012 and still holds reservations about approving the current Senate bill.
“Expanding a constitutionally dubious law to include new groups would require more funding and resources in order to carry out the new provisions,” the group’s VAWA key-vote alert read. “This bill’s catchy name does not conceal the harmful, ineffective, and dubiously grounded policy inherent in it.”
When asked whether Heritage Action had concern about the number of defectors in 2013 or whether it might need to change its litmus tests, Heritage Action Communications Director Dan Holler defended the group’s take on policy and place in GOP politics.
“If you look at what happened, especially in the 112th congress, one of the times when the Republican Party was soaring in popularity was [in the] runup to the debt ceiling when we were promoting the idea that we have a spending problem and that we should cut spending,” Holler said, calling the anti-spending message “winning.”
“We think Republicans are in their best political positions when they’re promoting the conservative position,” Holler continued. He added that Heritage sees itself as the group that can provide the GOP a “road map out of being the party of big business.”
He emphasized that not every member is going to vote with the group on every issue, pointing to some members whose constituents might expect them to vote for disaster relief, for example.
“What we say all the time — and this is to members and to their constituents — we put together scorecards so they can have perspective for votes,” Holler said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.