By Russell Berman - 01/15/14 08:03 PM EST
House conservatives plan to push their leaders to be bold and adopt an election-year agenda that would include floor votes on an ObamaCare alternative, a tax overhaul, surveillance reform and anti-poverty measures.
Top Republicans have been quiet on how aggressive they want to be in the run-up to November’s midterm elections and have said they would wait to hear from the rank and file at a retreat later this month before deciding their course.
“This is no time for Republicans to duck in a foxhole. This is the time for Republicans to lead,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.
The most ardent conservatives in the House have been frustrated by a series of fiscal defeats in recent months — beginning with the end of the government shutdown in October — in which they have been shunted to sidelines while party leaders cut deals with Democrats.
While another potential fight over raising the debt ceiling looms, many conservatives say they have little hope that the GOP will try to extract major concessions. Instead, they are turning their attention to the election in the hopes that Republicans can gain control of the Senate.
“The next fight is going to be about vision — who has the vision for the future of America?” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) said.
“Republicans right now think that all we have to do is talk about how bad the Obama economy is and we’re going to win in 2014,” he said. “The problem is we did that in 2012 — we talked about how bad the economy was, and we lost the presidency and we lost the Senate and we lost the House, if you look at the number of people who voted for the House.
“So just being against Obama is not a vision for winning electoral victories in the future,” Labrador said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said the conference should use the retreat in Cambridge, Md., at the end of January to lay out plans for a long-awaited GOP alternative to ObamaCare, tax reform, changes to the nation’s privacy laws and measures to combat poverty by giving more power to the states.
Jordan said Republicans should “not just talk about it but actually put legislation out there, vote on it, pass it and tell the American people ‘if you elect us, and give us six seats in the Senate, these are the kinds of things we’re going to put into practice.’ ”
Asked on Tuesday what he expected the GOP platform to be in 2014, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) mentioned just two core issues: jobs and ObamaCare.
“Every member is going to have the opportunity to advocate for a range of policy ideas, not just at the retreat but throughout the year,” a House leadership aide said Wednesday.
Party leaders say they agree with the conservatives on the need for “a positive agenda,” but it isn’t clear whether they will agree to endorse legislation and schedule floor votes on bills that could become fodder for campaign attacks.
“It’s an open question going forward for that retreat to resolve,” said Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign.
“As a conservative, as somebody who’s always campaigned with an alternative, I want our party to not be an opposition party,” he said in an interview. “I want our party to be an alternative party, with good, solid ideas where we can point to them and say, ‘This is how we’d do better.’
“Now, the question is how deep on every issue do you go? Are they bills, are they principles? I mean, it would be a range,” Walden continued. “If we’re going to be the governing party in the country, then we’ve got to have something to go sell.”
Yet if the leadership settles for drafting legislative principles without following up with legislation, some members are going to be disappointed.
“I don’t want to see us just come up with a vision,” Lummis said. “I want to see us devote considerable floor time in this calendar year to implementing that vision.”
For Republicans, no issue is trickier than tax reform. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), has been crafting an overhaul of the tax code for more than a year, but the leadership is wary of having its members vote on an issue with so many contentious parts.
Camp and his fellow GOP tax writers are seeking to tap into that conservative energy in the coming weeks and at the upcoming House retreat.
“Ultimately, leadership will follow what the conference wants,” Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) told The Hill. “Right now, leadership’s risk averse. They don’t want to put anybody at risk in a political year. But if the conference feels strongly that this is a path forward on the economy, then I think leadership will pay attention.”
Camp and more than a dozen other Ways and Means panel members attended an RSC lunch on Wednesday, in part to show off a new committee video that makes the pitch for a tax code overhaul. One issue that Boehner wants to address, but that many of the same conservatives do not want to touch, is immigration. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) spoke up at the Heritage event to argue that the party could not gain anything by tackling a topic that remains deeply controversial for many conservative voters.
“We also need to look at pitfalls, things that we should not do this year that would hurt our message going forward,” Bachmann said in reference to immigration.
Bernie Becker contributed.