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April 24, 2014

Posts in "Heritage Action"

January 29, 2014

Immigration, Debt Ceiling Take Center Stage at GOP Retreat

When President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass an immigration rewrite this year at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, House Republican leaders responded with applause and ovation.

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio clapped from the dais while Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California joined him from the House floor. Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin jumped to his feet just a few seats away.

But by and large, members of the House Republican Conference in attendance remained seated and stoic, un-enthused at the prospect of undertaking the politically perilous immigration overhaul during an election year, or at all.

As Republicans head to their annual three-day retreat, the challenge for leadership is to ensure that if the team chooses to rise in favor of immigration changes on the House floor again later this year, their conference follows. Full story

January 24, 2014

Boehner Tells Leno Government Shutdown a ‘Predictable Disaster’

In between quips about his tan complexion and common mispronunciations of his name, Speaker John A. Boehner acknowledged, in a Thursday evening interview with comedian Jay Leno, that Republicans were to blame for the government shutdown.

“It was a very predictable disaster, and the sooner we got it over with, the better,” the Ohio Republican said during his televised appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

“I told my colleagues in July I didn’t think shutting down the government over Obamacare would work because the President said, ‘I’m not going to negotiate,’” Boehner continued. “And so I told them in August ‘Probably not a good idea.’ Told them in early September. But when you have my job, there’s something you have to learn … When I looked up, I saw my colleagues going this way. And you learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk … So I said, ‘You want to fight this fight? I’ll go fight the fight with you.’” Full story

December 30, 2013

The House Year in Review

This year, doing the business of the People’s House was, at best, a struggle. It’s well-known that 2013 was, legislatively, the least productive session in congressional history. Leaders strained to get to 218 — a majority in the 435-seat House (in case you had no idea where the blog name came from). And there were some pretty notable news stories as a result of all this congressional dysfunction.

But as painful as the year was for members, covering the House was a pleasure, one which we here at 218 only had the honor of doing for about half the year.

In that short time, 218 — or “Goppers,” as we were formerly known, which rhymes with “Whoppers,” for all you still wondering about that — had more than a few favorite stories.

Among the labors of love, there was a piece about the 10 Republicans who could one day be speaker, a story on an internal August playbook that went out to House Republicans telling them to profess how they were fighting Washington, and a piece (in response to his “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment) asking the question: How do you solve a problem like Steve King? Full story

December 16, 2013

If Conservative Groups Could Have Sunk the Budget, Why Didn’t They?

It was, by most accounts, a bad week for outside conservative groups.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, blasted them last week for coming out against the budget deal in a kind of declaration of independence after a difficult year of bitter internecine sparring. And despite groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth bashing the deal and key voting against it, House Republicans overwhelmingly stuck with their speaker.

In the end, 169 Republicans (73 percent) voted for the budget and against their scorecards.

What you didn’t see, however, was Heritage Action or Club for Growth key vote against the rule for the budget deal. Amid all the noise about the budget and the relationship between these groups and leadership, their silence on the rule allowed the deal to go through without drama. A single Republican voted against the rule — and only 16 more of the 62 Republicans who voted against the budget would have been enough to bring it down.

Barney Keller, the communications director for the Club for Growth, told CQ Roll Call that had the groups key voted the rule, it “probably” would have gone down.

So why didn’t Heritage Action and the Club for Growth come out against the procedural vote?

Keller said the group is more interested in providing a “snapshot” of member positions than influencing floor action.

“I think our scorecard serves as a good tool for holding members accountable for what they say,” Keller said. “It’s not more complicated than that.”

“We let the chips fall as they may,” he added.

But would the rule have “probably” gone down if the outside groups pushed against it?

“The claim that they could have taken down the rule is just bullshit,” a senior GOP aide told CQ Roll Call on Monday.

“People are already questioning their legitimacy, and key voting the rule would have been a test of their relevancy that they would have failed,” the aide said.

That seems to be the take among many senior Republicans: The risk of an embarrassing defeat was too great.

“A year ago, our members were more scared of Club for Growth and Heritage Action. After the shutdown, these groups have kind of been marginalized,” the aide continued. “Members are less apt to listen to them.”

Another senior GOP aide pointed out that nearly three quarters of the conference, including two thirds of the Republican Study Committee, were not concerned with the key votes, proving “that their influence continues to diminish and their scorecards are largely irrelevant,” the aide said.

Boehner assailed the groups last week, saying, “Frankly, I think they are misleading their followers,” and that they have “lost all credibility.”

But the groups are still players — inside and outside of Washington.

That’s why House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan had to navigate an almost impossible line of rhetoric last week, defending the deal while praising the groups who were bashing it.

“I think these groups are valuable,” the Wisconsin Republican said on Fox News last week. “The way I look at it is this: They are part of our conservative family, and I’d prefer we keep these conversations within our family.”

Ryan said Boehner’s blowup was a response to some of the groups’ pre-emptive criticism.

“John was frustrated because they came out against our agreement before we even reached an agreement. I was frustrated about that as well, but I see the tea party as indispensable, valuable in helping keep the taxpayer in the game, keep Washington accountable,” Ryan said.

But what seemed to really anger Boehner was that the groups were going after Ryan.

“Boehner takes a lot of criticism, and it mostly rolls off this back,” a senior GOP aide told CQ Roll Call on Monday. “But he is close to Ryan and seemed very offended when these ‘conservative’ outside fundraising groups started attacking the most thoughtful conservative leader in the House.”

Another senior GOP aide summed it up this way: “Boehner is very protective of Ryan.”

Dan Holler, the communications director for Heritage Action, said it was “unfortunate” and “unclear” why Boehner made the comments last week. Much of the substance of the deal, Holler said, was lost because people were focusing on the Ohio Republican’s comments.

“Instead of acknowledging what it was, the speaker made it a barometer of conservatism,” Holler said.

Holler said this budget deal was “typical of how Washington used to work. Where people would get together, cut out their bases and pass deals that incrementally increase the size of government.”

As for why Heritage Action didn’t key vote the rule, Holler said such a move is incredibly rare, if not unprecedented. (The Club for Growth could only think of three times it has ever key voted a rule.)

But more than that, Holler indicated that Heritage Action recognized this was a bipartisan deal, where Democrats would come to the rescue if the deal — or the rule — were actually in trouble.

“The idea that Democrats were going to allow this deal to fall apart, I don’t think is backed up by any of the evidence,” Holler said.

“They weren’t going to allow a $63 billion spending increase to get jettisoned,” he said.

And it’s quite possible that if they had succeeded in bringing down the rule, it would only have sent Republican leaders into the waiting arms of Democrats looking to extract more concessions.

December 13, 2013

Ryan Talks GOP Budget Friction, Boehner’s Blowups on ‘Meet the Press’

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Ryan, left, and Boehner both spoke in support of the budget deal earlier this week. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., is choosing his words carefully when discussing the tenuous relationship between GOP lawmakers and conservative outside groups.

In sneak-peek excerpts from an interview to be aired on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday,  Ryan — who sat for questions with host David Gregory alongside Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. — conceded that he was “frustrated” with outside advocacy groups, such as Heritage Action for America and Americans for Prosperity, which “came out in opposition to our budget agreement before we reached a budget agreement.”

But Ryan was quick with a caveat, adding, “I think these taxpayer groups are indispensable to keeping taxpayer interest accounted for, keeping people accountable. Full story

RSC Members Reflect on Paul Teller’s Departure

Dozens of prominent conservatives off Capitol Hill are rushing to the defense of Paul Teller, the longtime executive director of the Republican Study Committee who was fired on Wednesday.

Republicans inside the halls of Congress, however, are split.

Some members have expressed sympathy for the man they considered a friend and ally.

“I’ll tell you, my first reaction to hearing the news was, ‘How can I hire him?’” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

Others said he had a history of undermining committee confidentiality agreements, leaking conversations to outside groups and actively working against the RSC when it was pushing a strategy with which he disagreed. Full story

December 11, 2013

AEI Chief Looks to Forge the ‘New Right’

brooks121113 445x295 AEI Chief Looks to Forge the New Right

Brooks, left, has forged relationships with many top GOP lawmakers, including Cantor. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In August, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint was traveling through GOP-friendly districts, urging Congress to defund Obamacare. In April, DeMint’s counterpart at a rival conservative think tank was visiting the Dalai Lama.

“I went to set up the collaboration in his monastery in Dharamsala, India,” Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, said in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call. “I meditated for half a day in his monastery and met with him in the afternoon.”

In his downtown Washington, D.C., office, wearing a black blazer with a checkered pocket square, slim-fit jeans and argyle socks, Brooks paused and smiled, as if relishing the audacity of it all: a conservative figurehead traversing a continent to convince the Buddhist spiritual leader to participate in an upcoming AEI campaign about “human flourishing and happiness.”

“This is the new right,” he said. “This is the new right.”

In his former life, Brooks was an academic, writing books and teaching courses on the virtues of the free-enterprise system, for which he calls himself a “warrior”; before that, he was a professional French horn player with a renowned orchestra in Barcelona.

Since Jan. 1, 2009, Brooks has helmed the AEI, a prestigious powerhouse of conservative intellectualism, where he wants to lead a revolution to transform the Republican Party of the 21st century. Full story

December 10, 2013

33 House Republicans Want a Sequester-Level CR, Just in Case

Thirty-three conservative House Republicans — including one committee chairman — have signed onto a letter urging leadership to bring to the floor a “clean” one-year continuing resolution that funds the government at sequester levels.

But don’t construe this plea as a coordinated assault on a budget deal that could emerge as soon as Tuesday afternoon, according to Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who spearheaded the letter along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise.

And don’t use it to characterize how all the lawmakers would vote should the deal replace the sequester, as expected.

“The letter is not, ‘What are we going to vote for, what can we support?,’” Mulvaney told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview. “All we’re saying is, ‘Look, if we don’t get anything we can support, we are not going to tolerate a government shutdown.’” Full story

November 12, 2013

Heritage, Club Back in Leadership’s Corner on Obamacare

If you like GOP leadership’s health care plan, so too does the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America.

The two conservative groups, known better of late for their troublemaker opposition to the Republican leadership’s strategies, are back on board as leadership looks to strike at smaller chunks of Obamacare and highlight Democratic divisions.

“It’s a no-brainer for Republicans to spend every day talking about a law that is incredibly unpopular with Americans and getting more unpopular every day,” said Barney Keller, the communications director of the Club for Growth. “It’s a political winner for Republicans, and we’ve said that all along.”

Full story

November 11, 2013

Club for Growth and Heritage Action Back Upton Obamacare Bill

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Upton is sponsoring a bill aimed at letting people keep insurance plans that don’t conform to the Obamacare law. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America have been sticklers for purity when it comes to Obamacare. Republican lawmakers, the conservative advocacy groups argue, should focus on repealing the entire 2010 health care law, not dismantling bits and pieces or making changes that inadvertently make the law better.

But both groups are fans of legislation that will come before the House this Friday that is intended to let Americans keep their existing health insurance plans, rather than have insurance companies cancel them if they don’t comport with the new standards of the health care law.

“We support the bill,” Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said in an email to CQ Roll Call late last week.

“Generally, we appreciate efforts to focus much-deserved attention on Obamacare, which is increasing premiums, reducing work hours and causing folks to lose their insurance,” Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, added in a separate email. “Heritage Action’s focus will continue to be on stopping the implementation of this unworkable, unaffordable, unfair law.” Full story

November 4, 2013

Boehner Under Bipartisan Pressure to Bring Up ENDA

boehner110413 445x302 Boehner Under Bipartisan Pressure to Bring Up ENDA

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

“Speaker Boehner, don’t stand on the wrong side of history” may be the the subject line of a House Democratic press release on gay rights legislation, but it’s also a message coming from some members of Speaker John A. Boehner’s own party.

“We ought to take this vote with nothing to fear,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., told CQ Roll Call on Monday afternoon. “The Republican Party has to understand where the country is moving on this issue, particularly younger voters who feel that we have to have a more libertarian view on this issue.”

“It isn’t right to be fired just because you are gay,” added Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., in an e-mailed statement. “I am hopeful that my colleagues in the House will … do their part to ensure equality for all.” Full story

October 18, 2013

Water Bill Latest Legislation Likely to Test Heritage-Leadership Divide

As the House returns to a slower legislative pace next week after the frenetic shutdown and debt ceiling standoff, House leaders have drafted a legislative schedule that appears to once again pit them against Heritage Action for America.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced Friday that the House will consider a bill beloved by infrastructure advocates and maligned by congressional spending critics: the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

Heritage Action said the bill “fails” in a number of areas and will likely result in ”unnecessary” projects.

“Lawmakers,” Heritage Action said, “have proven themselves eager to approve of such projects in the past, especially when non-federal entities in their districts push for construction projects to receive authorization. Not good!”

But despite Heritage Action’s opposition, lawmakers are almost certain to approve the bill, which would provide about $9 billion for the conservation and development of water resources while deauthorizing roughly $12 billion in projects.

While it might seem like the bill would produce $3 billion in savings over current spending, Heritage points out that the Army Corps of Engineers develops the list of spending priorities, and Congress approves it — and that could end up producing a bigger price tag than what the Congressional Budget Office could possibly calculate.

Of course, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee says that line of thinking is all wrong.

“The price of this bill is not open-ended; it’s finite,” said Jim Billimoria, the communications director for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Billimoria explained that Congress would have to approve those projects in the future, and therefore, “Heritage and other conservatives” might consider opposing those proposals.

“But that has no bearing on this bill,” Billimoria said.

Heritage Action key voted against the Senate bill, which passed that chamber 83-14, and if they key vote against the House bill, which passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in a noncontroversial voice vote, it is likely to be yet another instance that pits Heritage Action against House leadership.

After a long shutdown and debt ceiling battle that frequently illuminated the growing divide between GOP leadership and the Heritage Foundation, which leadership once respected but now increasingly seems to revile, leaders might be looking for a few easy wins.

And if those wins just happen to be losses for Heritage Action, then so be it.

Cantor’s office points out that the water bill has long been on the agenda.

“The majority leader has listed it as a priority in several of his memos to members,” Cantor spokesman Doug Heye told CQ Roll Call.

Several other legislative slam dunks will be considered next week as well — a courthouse naming bill, a bill requiring background checks for school employees and a measure extending adoption grants for foster families.

October 9, 2013

Republicans Refocus From Obamacare to Spending

As the GOP searches for a way to save face with conservatives, climb out of the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, senior House Republicans are hoping to shift the focus from Obamacare to spending.

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed from Rep. Paul D. Ryan titled “Here’s How We Can End This Stalemate,” and noticeably absent was the one word that prompted the shutdown chess match: Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican is advocating broad, long-term cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, calling those mandatory spending programs “the nation’s biggest challenge.”

He isn’t alone in that thought. Many senior Republicans have long felt the party would be better off fighting for a spending and entitlement overhaul than for a delay or repeal of parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Ryan quickly received backing from more establishment members of the GOP who had panned the idea of a shutdown and default fight over Obamacare in the first place, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a key ally of Speaker John A. Boehner.

“At the end of the day, it’s now really a debt ceiling discussion,” said Cole, who endorsed Ryan’s op-ed during a C-SPAN appearance. “It’s not over Obamacare. It’s really a budget, classic taxes, entitlements, spending reform kind of debate.”

Aides said Ryan has been in constant contact with leadership. One aide said the Ryan proposal already has traction within the GOP, and several rank-and-file conservatives told CQ Roll Call the focus has shifted to reining in entitlements.

“That’s where we need to be,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida as he came out of a Wednesday meeting with the Republican Study Committee. “I mean the mandatory spending is killing this country, and if we don’t get that under control, we’re not going to solve this problem.”

Yoho said the shift from Obamacare to fiscal issues “seems to be” common within the GOP conference — although he’s still not sure the debt limit needs to go up.

“I need to be schooled, or somebody needs to convince me, why we need to raise the debt ceiling,” Yoho said.

Ryan’s plan proposes replacing the sequester cuts with long-term, down-the-road cuts to entitlements and enacting tax code changes that would lower rates. In addition to the op-ed, Ryan also released a policy paper Wednesday further explaining his position.

“This is where we’ve been wanting to go all year long,” Ryan told CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “We’ve always known the debt limit is the way to get a budget agreement.”

Though Ryan said Republicans weren’t giving up on Obamacare — noting, “We’re bringing that to the table” — some tea party groups were peeved.

Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, released a statement Wednesday that said Ryan’s op-ed missed the mark.

“We must remember the reason we are fighting and remain united in our opposition to Obamacare,” Martin said.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former Republican Study Committee chairman, said Obamacare is “still a central part” of the CR and debt limit argument.

“Lots of ideas out there. We just keep making the argument that Obamacare is unfair the way it’s being implemented,” Jordan said.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana signaled that some aspect of Obamacare would need to be addressed to win the committee’s support.

He said there was no reason the so-called Vitter amendment — which would eliminate health care subsidies for members of Congress, staff and executive branch workers — should be a “deal-killer.” But Scalise said the committee is mainly focused on “Washington’s spending problem.”

Scalise also said the Republican Study Committee is focused on extracting concessions on the debt limit, even on just a short-term agreement.

“There’s still a lot of things that we can do to do short-term increases in the debt ceiling and actually address the spending problem at the same time,” Scalise said.

But others in the GOP conference are showing openness to raising the debt ceiling without concessions, at least temporarily, and keeping the fight on the CR.

That’s the position of Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham, who was a principle pusher of the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR strategy. On Wednesday, Needham said his “tactic” for dismantling Obamacare “is to focus on the CR.”

He’s not alone.

Conservative columnist Erick Erickson wrote an op-ed Monday that advised Republicans to raise the debt ceiling but keep the Obamacare fight going on the CR.

“I think there is a discussion of separating the two, maybe make sure we don’t default and continue to fight spending levels,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga, a senior appropriator.

The push for an escape hatch could grow as polls show the party taking a beating over the shutdown and Wall Street gets nervous as a default gets closer. A new Gallup poll released Wednesday showed the Republican Party dipping to the lowest approval rating on record going back 20 years — 28 percent, down 10 points in a month.

Democrats and the White House say they are open to negotiations, provided the GOP opens the government and extends the debt ceiling in the meantime.

Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told reporters Wednesday that there could be agreement on a set of principles to guide lawmakers on a path to a negotiated fiscal 2014 budget.

“There may be room to find a sliver of hope,” he said.

There were small signals of movement Wednesday — and speculation about whether both parties could agree on a budget framework that would include at a minimum a short-term debt limit hike.

First, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer. And the leaders seemed tight-lipped — a typical sign of progress.

President Barack Obama also invited the entire House Republican Conference to the White House Thursday. But Republicans were hopeful that a “smaller group of negotiators” would create a more fruitful discussion. Among the 18 Republicans headed to the White House? Ryan, the House Budget chairman.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

Heritage Action Supports Debt Limit Hike

Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham told reporters Wednesday morning that Republicans should raise the debt ceiling but keep the continuing resolution fight focused on dismantling Obamacare.

At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Needham said he was “sure” the markets would react negatively if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling. And he seemed to be aware of the economic and political hellfire that Republicans could face if they refused to raise the debt ceiling without concessions.

Instead, Needham said Republicans should keep the fight on the CR, and keep the spotlight on defunding Obamacare. Full story

September 17, 2013

Conservatives to Unveil Obamacare Replacement Bill

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Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

While the House GOP continues to grapple with how to defund or delay Obamacare in a continuing resolution or debt ceiling deal, the conservative Republican Study Committee is preparing to unveil its bill to fully replace the 2010 health law.

At a news conference set for Wednesday, RSC Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana and RSC Health Care Working Group Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee will roll out their long-anticipated “repeal-and-replace” legislation. Fellow GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, John Fleming of Louisiana, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Todd Rokita of Indiana are also expected to attend the event.

The RSC press release announcing the bill’s introduction included no hints of what the legislation might contain. But in August, CQ Roll Call got the scoop on the measure’s anticipated fall debut.

“We’ve obviously fought very hard to repeal the bill, to unravel different pieces on it that are falling on its own weight, anyway,” Scalise said in a brief phone interview at the time. “But we’ve also been working to put together a true alternative that would lower market costs and fix some real problems that existed before Obamacare that are made worse with it.”

Scalise didn’t give a lot of details during that phone call , but said the bill would include protections for people with pre-existing conditions — one of the main benefits of Obamacare. Full story

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