Senate "Reagan 21" - Competition for Existing GOP Groups?

Posted: Nov 06, 2007 12:01 AM
Senate "Reagan 21" - Competition for Existing GOP Groups?

In 1974 the late Senator Carl T. Curtis (R-NE) and Senator James A. McClure (R-ID), after a lunch with another staffer and yours truly, agreed to constitute what they called the Senate Steering Committee (SSC). They took a leaf from the successful Republican Study Committee. The idea was to come up with a caucus of conservative Senators. Curtis was elected Chairman after the first meeting of 14 Senators in his office. After Curtis was elected Chairman of the Senate GOP Conference, he left the SSC in favor of McClure. McClure ran the Committee as Curtis had in mind for the next five years, until he was elected as Chairman of the GOP Policy Committee. After that Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) took over the helm. McClure had run the SSC as a true caucus. He proposed amendments to bills, he proposed filibusters; he directed the staff to put "holds" on bills; sometimes he proposed alternative bills.

Helms changed the nature of the SSC. He brought in cabinet members of the brand new Reagan Administration. When he had exhausted them he turned to outside personalities. Senators loved it but they did not have strategy sessions. Staff ended up doing what Senators had done under Curtis and McClure. Finally, after the longest tenure in SSC history, Helms stepped down and Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-WY) succeeded him .He brought the SSC back to its original objectives, although staff, such as Jade West and Mike Hammond, ended up doing more of the work than Senators did. Only Wallop himself pursued the sort of strategy which Curtis had in mind.

Over the years the SSC bobbed and weaved back and forth, sometime more effective, sometime less. Then four years ago, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) became Chairman and he definitely brought the SSC back to its original objectives. His making Ed Corrigan Executive Director clearly made the SSC more effective. Then when Senator James DeMint (R-SC) became Chairman Senators with whom I spoke expressed anxiety that DeMint would not be forceful and effective. To the pleasure of Senators, he retained Corrigan and the two of them have brought the SSC to new heights. Of course, establishment Senators do not appreciate what DeMint has done - even when DeMint offered an amendment to delete an earmark of Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) which gives $3.5 million to the AFL-CIO, which targets Senators such DeMint for defeat. Specter complained that some Senators constitute an internal firing squad. The amendment, by the way, easily was defeated.

Clearly, the more effective DeMint becomes the more the pressure is exercised. The problem is that DeMint has a self-effacing manner. He does not push back in any way. That causes establishment Senators to turn up the heat even more. His colleagues hope he will not retreat in any way, as they greatly appreciate what he is doing. He does need his friends to defend him, however.

Meanwhile, a group called Reagan 21 has been constituted. It is an effort to cross-pollinate between the House and the Senate. That is good as co-ordination between the two bodies always has been difficult.

Members of Congress, such as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Congressman John Shadegg (R-AZ), are believed to be involved but no staff has been allowed. Members insist on writing their own bylaws. They want to come up with their legislative initiatives.

It is not clear if this group is considered to be competition to the RSC and the SSC. But please permit this observation. Unless these Members involve competent staff they will fail. There was a predecessor to the RSC and the SSC. Both failed because they lacked staff which knew what to do. It is not that Members aren't competent to do this work but the fact is they do not have the time. I know first-hand that this work is tedious. It takes dozens and dozens of conversations. It takes an incredible number of telephone calls. It takes networking with other staffers. And most importantly, it takes making a connection with outside groups. I have run a number of successful legislative battles. The only time a legislative effort is successful is when there is what we call an inside and outside operation.

Legislators constitute the inside. They know when to drop bills, offer amendments or what have you. So much of success is a matter of timing. Those on the outside have no idea about timing. Legislators do. When they instruct those of us on the outside (I learned what I did about this working on the inside) then we will know when to contact legislators, when to run media, when to write commentaries and so on. If we contact legislators at the wrong time we will fail. If we contact legislators at the right time we often can reach them and in some cases turn them around.

It is staff on the inside who will tell staff on the outside when to move. I know for a fact that Members will never have the time to contact those of us on the outside at the right time. They have many committee meetings to attend, they must offer amendments or on the House or Senate Floor. They have constituents to see. Yes, they even have lobbyists to hear. A good lobbyist will be honest about both sides of an issue, while defending his position. A good lobbyist will inform the Member of Congress. I worked for two Members of the Senate Leadership for eleven years. That was almost thirty years ago. Can anyone make the case that Members of Congress are less busy then they were thirty years ago?

Some on the outside are concerned that Reagan 21 will appear to be looking backwards, although the goal is to come up with forward-looking initiatives. If there would be competition with the RSC and the SSC, fine. Competition usually makes things better. But with outside competent staff, such as Paul Teller in the House and Corrigan in the Senate, competitors surely will fail, especially in this super-charged atmosphere. Will these Reagan 21 Members ever learn that lesson?