House Conservative Group Asserts Relevance

RSC Honchos Say Group Still Has Bite

Posted March 13, 2009 at 6:08pm

Since its creation as an internal conservative watchdog decades ago, the House Republican Study Committee has been transformed into a mainstream institution, with nearly two-thirds of the House GOP Conference claiming membership, including nearly all of the GOP’s elected leadership.

But the conservative lawmakers who lead and champion the one-time rump caucus say the group hasn’t lost its purpose, even as its ranks grow and its members grab positions in the formal House Republican hierarchy.

RSC Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said the House Republican Conference leadership team’s conservative tilt is a complement to the RSC — not a threat to its raison d’être.

“I take that as a reason for the RSC to continue to exist,— Price said, adding that although RSC members agree with many of the positions adopted by the entire Republican Conference, there are still issues that could be closer to the core principles of conservatism.

RSC membership has surpassed 100 over the past decade — including some lawmakers who have also joined the moderate Tuesday Group. That’s a far reach from the tight-knit collection of conservatives who formed the group in the 1970s as an “ideological rallying point— to ensure that their conservative views were represented.

Unlike the moderate-to-conservative House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, which caps its membership at 21 percent of the House Democratic Caucus, the Republican Study Committee has no limit on how many lawmakers can join its ranks.

Few Republican lawmakers have ever been rejected by RSC, according to GOP aides, who said GOP lawmakers who feel they wouldn’t fit in simply do not apply.

GOP fans of earmarked spending and those who have forsaken earmarks altogether all enjoy the conservative stamp of approval that comes with being a member of the group — even as Price and his predecessor, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), lead the campaign for a moratorium on the practice.

Several GOP aides said the general comity among RSC members — and between the group and the elected GOP leadership — is due to the fact that a Republican president is no longer putting Congressional Republicans in a tough position. They point to former President George W. Bush demanding support for an $800 billion bailout bill last year that was overwhelmingly opposed by RSC members and reluctantly supported by the elected GOP leadership.

The ascension of House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) — a former RSC chairman — to the leadership table and the fact that most of the Republican leaders are also RSC members transformed internal party disagreements from all-out family street fights to quiet conversations behind closed doors.

During his tenure as RSC chairman, Pence offered loud, public opposition to his own leadership, giving dozens of speeches on the House floor railing against GOP-backed spending and drawing the ire of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

However, Pence and Price said there is still a very strong need filled by the group.

From House Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) to Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) to Pence, “the Conference is being led by Members with strong conservative voting records and a personal commitment to fiscal discipline and reform,— Pence said, adding that this should not diminish the RSC’s “vital role promoting policies and ideas that reflect fiscal and social conservative attitudes.—

He added, “They set the conservative anchor and then we work with the development of Conference policy that reflects the broadest degree of consensus in the Conference.—

Price said that the RSC maintains a heavy focus on developing policy and that its core mission of promoting conservative themes and ideals is very different than that of the Republican Conference.