Mike Needham

Some pundits have come to the conclusion that since the LSC retains bipartisan support in the House (68 Republicans and 191 Democrats), Rep. Scott’s effort is futile. Drawing such a conclusion ignores legislative history and fails to recognize the growing sentiment in America to shrink the size and scope of the federal government.

Conservative policy victories rarely just happen, they are usually the product of long intellectual battles against an entrenched Washington Establishment that finally folds under genuine grassroots and good-government pressure. This is true on issue both large and small.

Look at the Presidio Trust, a federal corporation created by Congress in 1996 to preserve, protect, enhance and manage the Presidio of San Francisco. In 2007, Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offered an amendment to deny funding to the trust on the basis it was merely a local development matter – in essence, an earmark. That vote split House Republicans, 93 to 94.

Fast-forward 4 years, freshman Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY) offered an amendment to roll back funding for the Presidio Trust Fund, which was adopted by the House with near unanimous support among Republicans, 224 to 10. The amendment even enjoyed the support of 15 House Democrats.

In 1980, The Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” described the LSC as follows:

The poor do have legal problems which need solution, and they need lawyers who either work pro bono or who are paid a salary to represent the poor. But a $350 million federal bureaucracy is not needed to provide such services.

It went on to quote the New Republic, which wrote:

The legal services program may be the most extreme example of the paternalism of the American welfare state: denying the poor what they explicitly lack – money – in favor of goods and services the government thinks they should have, in the amount and proportion it deems appropriate.

It took conservatives years to win the fight against earmarks – a symbol of Washington waste and an enabler of big-government. Conservatives must apply the same passion and commitment to the small ball legislative issues. Seemingly innocuous programs, like the LSC, can have a dramatic impact not only on the cost of government, but also the scope of government.

As President Reagan was fond of saying, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'”

Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.