I’m delighted to see that House Republicans have figured out that their interests aren’t served by slavish devotion to the Heritage right-wing line.
National Journal reports:
Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, conservative outside groups have executed a relentless pressure campaign aimed at pushing the House majority further toward the base, and impressing upon lawmakers the risks of voting against the recommendation of these right-wing rainmakers.
But after a summertime spat over agriculture policy, GOP lawmakers decided to push back.
According to several sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the Republican Study Committee—a group of 172 conservative House members—has barred Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol.
I’m not sure it was ever appropriate to have Heritage in the room, but this certainly is a case of better late than never. The fact that House conservatives stood up for themselves is more important than what sparked this particular incident. Heritage, it seems, was caught “moving the goal posts” on the farm bill (i.e. lobbying to get a bill that split off food stamps and then turning around to vilify Republicans who would vote for it). As National Journal reports, “The new farm bill had passed over the objections of Heritage Action, which, to the astonishment of some RSC members, had issued another alert, telling conservatives to vote against the split bill — despite having spent years agitating for exactly that.” It was illustrative of how nutty and contrarian Heritage has become since Jim DeMint took over.
National Journal also picks up on a number of issues we’ve be writing about for some time.
Heritage is an outside group and should have no particular, elevated status with elected Republicans. “Whatever the cause, many conservative Hill aides say the move was long overdue, arguing that if the RSC really is a ‘member-driven organization’ it should not allow outside forces to influence its internal deliberations. ‘These are closed meetings for a reason,’ one aide said. ‘It’s one member, and one staffer allowed per member. No press. No guests. So why are they (Heritage) different?’”
Heritage doesn’t speak for all conservatives and is not the arbiter of what is “conservative.”
Heritage is operating in ways think tanks never have and has in many respects sacrificed intellectual integrity, as it did in the immigration debate.:
There were promises of legal separation between the two entities, of course, but Republicans had little doubt that the line would eventually blur between policy shop and political outfit. And in the 113th Congress, according to Hill aides, the “wall” that Heritage employees refer to — separating the Action side from the Foundation side — has come crashing down.
This time frame coincides with the arrival of former Sen. Jim DeMint, who in January resigned his seat to take over as president of the Heritage Foundation.
DeMint and his Senate Conservatives Fund had previously raised huge sums of money by picking on establishment Republicans, many of whom had conservative voting records. This relentless pursuit of ideological purity, financed by fat checks from conservative donors, alienated lawmakers from DeMint and his organization.
With DeMint now at the reins of Heritage, Republicans on Capitol Hill see that pattern repeating itself.
That in part may account for several scholars’ departures from Heritage since DeMint officially started.
Congressmen and senators are responsible to the Constitution, their constituents and their own conscience. It is a good idea to get input from all sorts of groups, but obliging when Heritage hollers “Jump!” makes one a puppet, not a conservative. In fact, in polls on immigration and government-shutdown tactics, the public, including Republicans, is nowhere near as radical as Heritage. And Heritage donors (to the think tank and Heritage Action) who thought they were promoting conservative research and analysis or helping the GOP reach majority status should be aware how their dollars are being used. Is this what they signed up for?