Price Brings a New Focus on Outreach to the RSC

Posted October 26, 2009 at 6:35pm

The Republican Study Committee has been a conservative policy shop by tradition, but Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) has been working to expand the reach and scope of the group and to delve into areas beyond talking points and legislation.

An internal watchdog for fiscal discipline when Republicans were in the majority, the RSC has undergone a series of changes in the minority.

As many moderate members of the House Republican Conference retired or lost re-election campaigns in the past two cycles, the percentage of conservative Republicans has grown.

Now with nearly two-thirds of Republican Members signed on with the RSC, Price faces the challenge of figuring out how to stay relevant in an already-conservative Conference.

Since talking the reins from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) last year, Price has dedicated his two-year term as the head of the RSC to increasing its focus on communication, participation in new media and coalition outreach.

Price stresses the importance of working with coalitions inside and outside the Beltway. Each week Price engages in conference calls with conservative groups such as the National Taxpayers Union, FreedomWorks and Focus on the Family to discuss the issues that Congress is taking up and the RSC’s take on each one.

“I think there was a remarkable frustration that there hadn’t been an upbeat and aggressive battle for the principles we believe in,— Price said.

Jordan Forbes, federal government affairs manager for the National Taxpayers Union, described the outreach as “extremely helpful.—

“While we’re busy fighting for our members from across the country, Dr. Price and the RSC are in the trenches in Congress,— Forbes said in an e-mail. “Being able to share what we’re hearing from our activists and getting insight about what’s happening on the Hill makes both sides of the call more effective.—

Price acknowledged that his approach, which includes weekly message memos and a booking operation to get more conservative Members media exposure, mirrors that of the House Republican Conference and its chairman, Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.).

But Price said the RSC outreach is meant to be a complement to the larger Conference operation.

“The overarching goal is to have Members say in two years time, ‘membership in the RSC allowed me to be a better Member,’— Price said.

Pence said Price’s efforts have only added to the Republican effort to get their message noticed by the public.

“When I was elected Conference chairman, I told my colleagues that ‘we are all Conference chairman now,’— Pence said. “All House Republicans have worked hard to take our message to the American people, especially my colleagues at the Republican Study Committee.—

Under Price, the RSC has also increased the number of outside speakers who address the group, most recently welcoming former Vice President Dick Cheney to talk about national security issues at a meeting last week.

Past speakers have included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Price said he has made a concentrated effort to get freshman Members of the House Republican Conference out into the conservative community and the public eye.

Earlier this month, Price organized a press conference that featured freshman military veterans Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Pete Olson (Texas), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Tom Rooney (Fla.) and John Fleming (La.).

“The Afghan presser set up by RSC was very helpful in ensuring the military experience of freshman was highlighted in making the case on an important issue,— Olson spokeswoman Melissa Kelly said in an e-mail.

Price has not let the new outreach program overshadow the group’s policy work. At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast last week, Price reminded reporters gathered at the St. Regis Hotel that the RSC health care reform bill had more than 50 co-sponsors, more than any other Republican proposal.

Price said he has urged House Republican leaders to use the RSC plan as the official Republican alternative but has been turned down because many House Republicans do not want to be tied to — and judged by — a singular proposal.

“There’s a difference of opinion. I think we ought to have a bill; others believe that the principles [of health care reform] are what need to be discussed,— Price said. “It’s a difference of opinion from a political standpoint.—