House GOP Says It Can Legislate and Investigate at the Same Time

Prominent conservative group suggests delaying votes to focus on Obama scandals.

House Republicans are pushing back against a prominent conservative group’s suggestion that congressional leaders should avoid scheduling potentially divisive votes which could shift the media spotlight away from the White House’s recent woes.

Heritage Action, an influential group that works closely with the Republican Study Committee and its conservative members, wrote a letter Thursday to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., urging them not to bring two bills to the floor.

Both pieces of legislation—the Marketplace Fairness Act and the farm bill—are opposed by the group. In the letter, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham warns Boehner and Cantor that voting on these bills “would give the press a reason to shift their attention away from the failures of the Obama administration to write another ‘circular firing squad’ article.”

But the notion that House Republicans should steer clear of any potentially discordant votes did not sit well with some lawmakers.

“This is the House of Representatives,” said Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, a conservative RSC member who said he normally supports Heritage Action’s efforts. “We need to step up and do our work.”

At the opposite end of the GOP’s ideological spectrum, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a moderate who sometimes refers to himself as an independent, scoffed at the suggestion. Coffman said there’s no reason the House, which is playing a part in the investigations of the IRS and Justice Department, can’t simultaneously tend to its legislative duties.

“We’ve got two things occurring at the same time: committees doing oversight work, and committees doing legislative work,” he said. “I don’t see the legislative agenda being changed at all—and that’s how it should be.”

According to a senior House leadership aide, Heritage Action isn’t concerned with the harmony of the House Republican Conference. Rather, the group wrote to leadership with the sole purpose of preventing legislation they’ve fought against from coming to the floor. “Are they opposed to the farm bill because of timing, or are they just opposed to the farm bill?” the aide said. “It’s not a serious argument.”

House Republicans realize the damage being done to the Obama administration and aren’t eager to distract the media with another internecine battle on the House floor. Still, members say, they have a job to do.

“Speaker Boehner is well-known for saying, ‘When your opponent is committing suicide, don’t shoot him,’ ” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. “The White House is dealing with these scandals, but our job includes more than just watching to see whether this provides a political edge. Our job is to take part in governance, and enact policies that are good for the country.”

The leadership aide was quick to point out that neither of the bills mentioned in the Heritage Action letter is scheduled to come up next week. The Marketplace Fairness Act, which is being considered in the Ways and Means Committee, is not scheduled for a vote in the near future. And the farm bill, which just cleared the Agriculture Committee, isn’t likely to reach the House floor until June, after members return from Memorial Day recess.

Even if both bills were to come to the House floor next week, it’s not clear that House conservatives share Heritage Action’s concerns. Consideration of these bills may not splinter the conference at all. Either way, as Schweikert pointed out, this past week showed that House conservatives have no intention of easing up on the Obama administration anytime soon.

“They don’t have to worry,” Schweikert said of Heritage Action, smiling. “My brothers and sisters here are focusing plenty on the IRS and the Department of Justice.”

This article appears in the May 20, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as House GOP Ignoring Group’s Call for Legislative Respite.