Heritage Action’s distinct lobbying plan
By Suzy Khimm, Published: January 24
Think of Heritage Action as the Clark Kent of the conservative think tank world — as buttoned-down and statistics-laden as can be, but when the nemesis (Democrats! Liberals! Wishy-washy Republicans!) come into sight, the glasses come off and the lobbying muscles flex.
“Fiscal cliff” — ZAP!
Higher taxes — WHAM!
Deficit spending — KA-POW!
The thrills — and opportunities for heroics — seem greatest when disaster is at hand. Or at least that’s how Mike Needham likes to look at it.
The 31-year-old chief executive of Heritage Action — the lobbying arm of the storied Heritage Foundation — senses victory where others see defeat.
Sure, you could interpret the passage of the Jan 1. fiscal cliff deal as a crushing loss for conservatives, who were pained to see Republicans vote for their first tax increase in more than two decades. But flip the script, Needham urges, and you’ll see that only 85 House Republicans supported the deal; 151 of them voted against it.
“That’s a whole lot of Republicans who kept their purity on the tax issue,” Needham explains. He’s as confident as ever that his group will compel conservatives to hold firm in the next stage of the fiscal fight. Needham will have a partner in former senator Jim DeMint, the conservative firebrand from South Carolina who’s set to become president of the Heritage Foundation in April.
As with DeMint, there’s little that animates Heritage Action more than being in the opposition, where an honorable defeat will always trump a watered-down compromise. Needham’s group has a distinct way to convince itself and others of its rectitude: reams of data and research from the most visible and well-funded think tank on the right. A willingness to go to the brink doesn’t hurt, either.
While some of its compatriots have reconsidered their hardline stances since President Obama’s reelection — even Grover Norquist gave the GOP a hall pass on the fiscal cliff’s tax hike — Heritage Action has retrenched. On Wednesday, House Republicans backed down from the debt-ceiling standoff and voted to suspend it for three months without offsetting spending cuts. But Heritage Action has already settled on the next crisis point to use as leverage: rallying, cajoling and shaming lawmakers to commit to a budget that balances within 10 years. And here, in part, is why Heritage Action calls itself the “new fangs” on the Heritage “beast”: It has no qualms about holding conservative members accountable to their promises — even if it risks a government shutdown. (more…)