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Earlier this month, House Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chair Steve Scalise fired Executive Director Paul Teller for allegedly working with conservative organizations like FreedomWorks and Heritage Action. It was especially ironic in light of how often liberals and pretentious academics use the RSC as an example of how the movement to limit government has grown out of hand.
Has Washington really been overrun by people trying to limit government?
Thomas Mann & Norm Ornstein, scholars at the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, respectively, like to lecture on the idea that the Republican Party is too conservative. In their book, It’s Even Worse than it Looks, the RSC is one example they provide of growing extremism. They observe that the RSC, which they describe as beginning as a “small fringe group,” now contains 70 percent of House Republicans. So how conservative is the RSC compared to its founding?
Founded in 1973, the RSC’s first executive director was Edwin Feulner. It was the last job he held prior to beginning as the Heritage Foundation’s president in 1977, where he would continue to serve until passing it to Sen. Jim DeMint in April of this year.
After the termination of Teller from the RSC, the Heritage Foundation served as a soapbox for conservative members of the RSC who had been sidelined by Scalise’s decision. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), who serves on the RSC’s steering committee, said, “I didn’t find out about it until I walked in the room.” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) went even further: “Paul's one of the most effective staffers on the Hill…. He helps our cause. And firing him does not.”
This hardly constitutes the unity one would expect from a behemoth “conservative” institution capable of unduly influencing Washington.
So how many conservatives are there in Congress?
There are various metrics we could use to answer that question. If we look at the effort to defund ObamaCare, for instance, exactly 80 House members and 14 senators signed the letter authored by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mark Meadows in support of the movement.
That constitutes 17.5 percent of the 535-member Congress.
Another piece in the U.S. News and World Report last week, titled, The 5 Temper Tantrums That Defined Washington Dysfunction This Year, listed some examples of the “dysfunction” that opponents to more spending and overwhelming government control have wrought.
Among them were Rand Paul's filibuster questioning whether President Obama could unilaterally execute Americans using drones; the government shutdown over ObamaCare; and the failure to pass a farm bill. (Ornstein is quoted lamenting that Congress used to be able to pass a farm bill via “compromises and trade-offs” – in other words, pork barrel payoffs for the obedient parties.)
The Washington establishment views any opposition to them or their government as dysfunctional. They cannot understand it.
“We are no longer seeing [conservatives] revolt against the Republican leadership, or even against the Republican ‘establishment,” writes Michael Gerson for the Washington Post. “This revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality.”
Limited government is no longer just undesirable, according to proponents of more government. It runs contrary to reality.
More than that, they see it as threatening the very fabric of the nation. In September, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) referred to conservatives as “a small group of willful men and women who have a certain ideology,” warning in hushed tones that they had made politics in Washington “very dangerous… every bit as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War.”
The Wall Street Journal published a piece on Christmas Day reiterating the alliance between establishment Republicans and the corporate interests represented by the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, according to the WSJ, expects to spend upwards of $50 million “to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election.” Karl Rove’s American Crossroads was cited as another group expected to assist establishment candidates.
Measured against 94 conservative members of Congress, that comes to just over $500,000 per head.
Washington has hardly been overrun by hordes of conservatives trying to limit government. But to hear Washingtonians tell it, those who have made it here are “dysfunctional,” “dangerous,” “fringe,” and opposed to reality.
If a froward group of eight dozen people were all it took to upset profligate Washington bureaucrats in 2013, the prospect of next year’s election must look even more terrifying to them. For everyone else, 2014 promises to be a great year for holding Washington accountable.