GOP consistency necessary

House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) has joined fellow Republican Thaddeus McCotter in suggesting that the House Republican Policy Committee — which McCotter has chaired since 2006 — be abolished.

The savings McCotter (Mich.) touts as his main reason for wanting the Policy Committee abolished would be miniscule compared to the cost, for example, of the farm subsidies he so ardently supports. Abolishing the committee would apparently save taxpayers only about $360,000 a year, but, according to McCotter, demonstrate GOP “seriousness” about reducing government spending and congressional perks.

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Virginia’s Eric Cantor along with California Republican Kevin McCarthy have lined up against the proposal, arguing that the committee continues to serve a purpose. They note that the committee’s mission is an important one: “to develop sound legislative ideas into meaningful legislation.”   Boehner and McCotter say other committees, task forces and officers are doing that as well and that the Policy Committee should be viewed as, well, redundant.

Since almost everyone involved in the dispute admits that the money saved by abolishing the committee wouldn’t really be saved at all, but “re-programmed” to advance the GOP leadership’s “other priorities,” it forces one to ask what this is all about.

Some suggest this is part of a larger struggle between Boehner and Cantor, which would certainly explain the vociferousness of his defense of the committee. Others suggest that since McCotter apparently doesn’t intend to run for another term as committee chairman, he and Boehner have proposed eliminating the committee to keep Georgia’s Tom Price from the post and therefore becoming a part of the GOP leadership team.

For more than 60 years, the Policy Committee has, in addition to its official mission, served as a gateway into the leadership for policy-oriented conservatives like Dick Cheney, Henry Hyde,   John Shadegg and, yes, Thaddeus McCotter. Having made the jump himself, one might fault the current chairman for trying to close the gates and make it more difficult for people like him in the future, even if doing so would be but an unintended consequence of what he proposes.

It is difficult for an outsider to accurately read the egos, motives, ambitions or likes and dislikes of any of these folks. Ambition can be as strong a motivator as ideology or friendship. All of these men are certifiable conservatives, so it can’t be the sort of ideological fight that has often erupted within the Republican congressional leadership in the past.   Each of these men is universally seen as both conservative and sincere in his desire to advance conservative ideas.

In an interview several years ago McCotter criticized the tendency of some in Washington to focus on intricate inside-the-Beltway questions rather than the broader issues of interest to most voters.   He said, “If we try to go for something cute or say, ‘The Democrats are bad, so here are 10 things we’ll do that really don’t affect you but will make your Congress better,’ it’s not going to work.” He went on to suggest that “the American people are smarter than us, but if we start using Washington-speak, it drives them nuts.” The present controversy leads one to conclude that he may have forgotten his own advice.

Developing policies consistent with the principles on which Republicans seek votes strikes many as exactly the sort of spending on which Republicans should be able to agree ­— and a major squabble over re-programming these few dollars is the kind of issue McCotter has spent his years in Congress condemning.

Republicans lost control of the Congress four years ago because rather than develop programs consistent with their principles, they took an almost obsessive pleasure in adopting the practices of the Democrats they had driven from power in 1994. By making Washington all about politics rather than policy, they damaged their party’s brand, sapped voters’ desire to work to keep them in power and set the stage for the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008.  

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This fall Republicans are poised to make a comeback as voters react to Democratic overreach and arrogance. The polls continue to reveal, however, that while voters don’t like what the Democrats have done and want to do, the Republicans have yet to win back the trust they squandered.

This is the time to listen to — not to abolish —   the committee most focused on keeping policy initiatives in line with the needs and desires of an electorate that expects action rather than just talk.     

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental  consulting firm.

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