Who Will Lead House Conservatives?

A battle over the future of the Republican Study Committee is pitting conservatives against one another.

The group of more than 110 House Republicans, under the leadership of term-limited Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), has been a voice for fiscal responsibility at a time when Republicans have had an uncontrollable appetite to spend taxpayers’ money. But the election to replace Pence as chairman on Wednesday is being viewed as a contest between two opposites.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.), a fiscal conservative who currently serves as chairman of the RSC’s Budget & Spending Taskforce, has won the backing of Pence and former RSC Chairman John Shadegg (Ariz.). However, the four founders of the RSC have decided they want the group to take another direction. They are strongly backing Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R.-Kan.), a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Hensarling and Tiahrt have identical lifetime ratings from the American Conservative Union (97%), and both are strong social conservatives. Each scored 100% on the Family Research Council’s scorecard for 2006, and they have supported the same position as the National Right to Life Committee on all votes during their time in Congress.

But the similarities end there. The National Taxpayers Union gave Hensarling an “A” rating with a mark of 79%, earning him the “Taxpayers’ Friend” stamp of approval in 2005. Tiahrt scored 61% for a “B” grade. Under the Club for Growth’s grading system, Hensarling scored a perfect 100%, making him one of only seven members to earn that designation. Tiahrt, meanwhile, was the 97th best congressman, scoring 67% for 2005.

Spending, Spending, Spending

Since coming to Congress in 2003, Hensarling has worked tirelessly to slow federal spending as an active RSC member, forming “Washington Waste Watchers” to shine a spotlight on the bloated bureaucracy and taking the lead on “Operation Offset” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Tiahrt, from his perch on the Appropriations Committee, has voted for spending increases, while at the same time securing earmarks for his Wichita district.

Tiahrt, according to “The Almanac of American Politics,” has bragged that one of the “top 10 most gratifying things I’ve done” is securing $1 million in an omnibus appropriations bill for the Wichita Police Department to investigate the “BTK” killer. He’s also secured other high-dollar earmarks, such as $4 million for Wichita Intelligent Transportation Systems, $2.5 million for improvements to the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, and $1.6 million for a bridge replacement in Harper County, Kan., according to “The Pig Book,” published by Citizens Against Government Waste.

To his credit, Tiahrt was the lone member of the Appropriations Committee to co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R.-Ariz.) earmark reform bill. However, Flake is actively backing Hensarling for the RSC post. Other supporters of Hensarling include Representatives Gresham Barrett (S.C.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Kevin Brady (Tex.), Tom Feeney (Fla.) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.). Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) has sent a letter on Hensarling’s behalf to RSC members supporting his candidacy.

Running on Their Records

Tiahrt has not publicly named supporters. However, he told Congressional Quarterly, “I have spoken with leadership about the job. They’re supportive.” The four founders of the RSC who support Tiahrt are Representatives Dan Burton (Ind.), John Doolittle (Calif.), Ernest Istook (Okla.) and Sam Johnson (Tex.). Istook, who is retiring, and Doolittle have served on the Appropriations Committee with Tiahrt.

“I am honored that the men who set the original vision for the RSC have nominated me to lead the fight for conservative principles in the House,” Tiahrt said following the founders’ announcement. “From my days as a freshman trying to eliminate the Department of Energy to a few months ago when we attempted to identify and eliminate government waste through my Government Efficiency Act, I have been on the front line in the battle against government spending.”

Hensarling also cited his record as the reason members should elect him. He also brings to the table professional campaign experience, having worked for former Sen. Phil Gramm (R.-Tex.). Hensarling has run a presidential campaign, statewide Senate campaign and served as director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Since coming to Congress, the RSC has been my ‘A’ committee,” he said. “It is where I’ve chosen to listen, learn and lead. It is where my strongest commitment and passions reside within Congress. As your Chairman of the RSC Budget and Spending Task Force for almost three years, it is also where I have a clear record for you to judge my ability to lead the organization.”

Primary Documents

The following documents from Hensarling and Tiahrt offer additional information about their candidacies for chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

In support of Hensarling:

In support of Tiahrt: