New “House Freedom Caucus” to Push Conservative Agenda

“If the RSC shrinks from its duties, if it allows the executive branch to establish the entire legislative agenda, if it refuses to “frame the issues” in a conservative manner by bowing to the ideological deviations in store, the Republican Study Committee will sink to an impotent posture. However, a new group of ideologically committed conservative House members and staff aides willing to establish and implement a conservative legislative agenda will undoubtedly move in to fill the vacuum.”  — Ed Feulner (1983), conservative icon, founder of both the RSC and the Heritage Foundation

It seems that several of the more conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have been growing increasingly concerned and frustrated with Republican leadership, saying that it is not conservative enough. This isn’t really news, and many of us “average citizens” share those feelings. But, the concern has now spread to include the internal watchdog over GOP leadership — the 170-member Republican Study Committee (RSC). This caucus was originally launched by conservative activists in 1973 to work with external conservative groups (e.g., The Heritage Foundation, National Rifle Association, Cato Institute, Focus on the Family) to guide the House GOP, keeping it true to conservative principles and holding its leaders accountable.

U.S. Capitol BuildingOver the years, however, more and more moderates have “infiltrated” the ranks, and the RSC’s purpose and focus began shifting to the center. Last year the group began purging itself of its more conservative staffers. It is now accused of having “disrupted relations with outside conservative groups” and, in effect, become a mere “conservative seal of approval” for rather non-conservative measures and members. There is also concern that, with membership now comprising two-thirds of the Republican conference, the RSC is too unwieldy. Generally inactive members also end up having undue influence over caucus policy and elections.

With the RSC having lost its way, precisely as Feulner predicted, some have suggested that a new group needs to be founded to pick up the old mantle. Rumors began a few weeks ago that such an endeavor was underway, and now it appears that the rumors were true. Just a few days ago, the founders of the House’s new “Freedom Caucus” announced its formation. According to the organization’s mission statement,

“The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.” (italics added)

The invitation-only group hopes to start off with about 30 members, likely maxing out around 40. (As some have noted, a 29-person membership would put it in a position to block Republican legislation that members don’t support.) The nine founding members are considered some of the most hard-line conservatives in the House. They include de facto chairman (pending leadership elections) Jim Jordan (OH), Raúl Labrador (ID), Justin Amash (MI), Ron DeSantis (FL), Mick Mulvaney (SC), Mark Meadows (NC), John Fleming (LA), Matt Salmon (AZ), and Scott Garrett (NJ). According to Joel Gehrke at National Review Online, membership dues will fund the hiring of three to four staff members. As an expression of their commitment, the nine founders will pay a higher amount, called a “mortgage”. (Yikes!)

The House Freedom Caucus was not conceived as being specifically anti-Boehner or anti-RSC. (However, the reported “last straw” in mounting tensions was last November’s election of Rep. Bill Flores as RSC Chairman. Like his predecessor Steve Scalise, Flores is a moderate and has stated that he “does not believe the RSC’s core mission should be to put pressure on leadership.”) Members are not required to resign from the larger group, though some likely will, or will simply stop participating in RSC meetings. Rep. Jordan, for one, intends to be active in both. As Gehrke puts it, “The lawmakers hope to refine the process by which conservatives pressure leadership, so as to shape policy outcomes while avoiding melodramatic floor fights between Republicans.” Labrador insists that they fully intend to work with, rather than against, their peers. To be effective in their mission, they need to “sit down with leadership and let them know what we want, why we want it, [and] what ideas we have to improve the product or the process.”

“Our main hope is that we can represent the voids and valleys for our constituents back home,” Rep. Labrador told The Daily Signal. “With a small group that is nimble and able to work on issues that are of importance to our constituents, we can make a difference in Congress.” The new caucus’ most immediate plans as per Jordan are to address pending bills on border security, Department of Homeland Security’s funding, and “the President’s unconstitutional executive amnesty” for illegal immigrants. (Yes, I used the “I”-word.)

“We want to accomplish an agenda of conservative reform, something where we represent the values of the people back home. Both parties make the mistake of representing special interests and lobbyists and the groups that give money to their campaigns. We really want to represent the people, and that’s what we want to make sure we do in the House Freedom Caucus.”  — Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID)

I am encouraged by the formation of this new caucus. I was not previously aware of how watered-down the RSC had become, so I am glad that these truly conservative leaders have taken steps to influence legislation with a more consistently conservative, more constitutional agenda. My main question, though, is how effective they can truly be, while the House is still under control by Boehner and the GOP “establishment”. That said, the House Freedom Caucus has my prayers and my support!

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