Burgess: Why Policy Matters for the House GOP

Posted July 12, 2010 at 3:36pm

The House Republican Policy Committee has been described as “the ‘think tank’ for House Republicans.” Recently the suggestion has been made that, in order to save money, perhaps Republicans no longer need their think tank. I could not more strongly disagree. If the question is, do we save money or the Policy Committee, I would submit we must be bold enough to do both.

The Policy Committee was founded more than six decades ago, in 1949, following a significant loss of Republican seats in the 1948 election. House Republicans at the time wanted a forum to consider “forward-looking Republican thinking.” Since then, this committee has held a prominent position in advocating for the core principles for which conservatives stand. It is tasked with two very important responsibilities: discuss legislation and report suggestions.

For the past 61 years, the Policy Committee has done just that, including the committee’s most recent report “We The People: WIDE AWAKE.” One argument made to justify abolishing the committee is that, seemingly because of the creation of this one document, the committee’s purpose to the House Republican Conference has now been fulfilled, and the committee is no longer necessary.

Could it be possible that this one supposedly groundbreaking document encompasses all Republican legislative proposals and suggestions from now until the end of time? I await your answer.

In the interim, let us agree on this: Fundamental conservative principles are not subject to change. Those of us who believe in a smaller government with lower taxes and the importance of national sovereignty do not need to periodically adjust our guiding compass.

But our country does change, people change, demographics change and policies do indeed evolve. And no one should be surprised to recognize that this trend will continue, which is why a Policy Committee and its important responsibilities must endure.

On the Policy Committee’s website is the statement: “The Policy Committee offers a unique opportunity for participation by Members whose legislative ideas do not in every case coincide with their committee assignments.” This certainly was true for me when I was newly elected to Congress. As a doctor, health care policy mattered significantly to me, but I was not on a committee of jurisdiction. If it were not for the Policy Committee, I would have had no forum to articulate my ideas and turn them into policy.

Another election is less than four months away. Whether House Republicans gain 20 Members or 70 Members, our Conference will need the Policy Committee to exist and be functional, so that freshmen have a place to go to have their voices heard on policy. After all, is that not the purpose of a Member of Congress in a representational republic?

The Policy Committee’s own website states: “Envisioned as the principal forum for the consideration of forward-looking legislative initiatives, the Republican Policy Committee is an important means for every Member of the Republican Conference to develop sound legislative ideas into meaningful legislation.” I agree.

How frustrating it has been for Republicans, for the past year and a half, to be labeled the “party of no.” How unfairly and incorrectly this characterization has persisted. Please let us not contribute to this inaccurate narrative by flatly stating that we no longer need the Policy Committee. Where better to formulate Republican policy proposals for moving our country forward than in the Policy Committee?

Another argument proffered for the elimination of the Policy Committee is to use the funds to pay down the national debt. Spending is a problem, and Americans want solutions. I believe that spending is one of the biggest problems plaguing our federal government and agree with those who think we should look for ways to save taxpayer dollars. But a move to disband the committee, when it is intended to provide such a critical role in the Republican Conference, would be extremely ill-advised. Ideas and policies are needed, and Republicans can lead by example by having a Policy Committee that is dedicated to crafting the policies that will balance the budget and pay down the debt.

Some of the most recognizable Republican names not only worked to further this vision, but also helped lay the groundwork for a strong House Republican Policy Committee, and as a consequence, a strong Republican Conference. A browsing of the committee’s history includes names such as former President Gerald Ford, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as committee chairman from 1981 to 1987.

The committee, when it functions as it was created to do, has been vital in highlighting the stark differences between the policies of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. America is at a crossroads, and now more than ever, House Republicans need a conduit for crafting the policies of our agenda.

Policy matters.

Rep. Michael Burgess is a Texas Republican who ran for Policy Committee chairman in 2008.