- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

House Republicans will lock themselves in a room Thursday, keep non-members out and hold a secret vote to decide who will take former Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s place as the engine of conservative government.

The race is among outsider Rep. John Shadegg, a former chairman of the conservative caucus in the House; insider Rep. Roy Blunt, the current majority whip; and insider-turned-outsider Rep. John A. Boehner, who used to be a part of leadership, lost his post and has re-emerged as a key committee chairman.

Unlike recent coronations, this year’s election is turning into a real race. Mr. Blunt yesterday said he continues to have a majority, but the list of those who are publicly supporting the Missourian is at least 20 votes short of the 117 votes needed to win a majority of the 232 members of the House Republican Conference.

“It’s pretty clear Mr. Blunt does not have the votes to win it on a first ballot,” Mr. Shadegg said. “There’s a very vigorous debate going on about reform and about whether we can simply remain with the status quo.”

As a member of the 1994 Contract With America class, Mr. Shadegg is the most ready to shake up the conference. He said Congress has fallen short on both major promises of that Republican revolution: reforming Congress and limiting government.

“The American people are no longer paying any attention to our substantive agenda because they’re being distracted by our failure to clean up the way Washington works,” the Arizonan said.

The former chairman of the Republican Study Committee voted against the Medicare prescription-drug benefit bill in 2003 and said Congress should revisit it and slice it down to those who need it.

He also led Republicans’ “unity dinners” on immigration that helped create the momentum for last year’s House vote to build 700 miles of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Shadegg said while the other candidates promise reforms in Congress, they have both been in leadership positions and haven’t gotten anything done.

“How many opportunities do you get?” he said.

Mr. Boehner, who has been in Congress longer than the other two, said his experience will help House Republicans get past their current stagnation.

“I’m trying to push the blinders back for every member of our conference,” he said. “I just don’t see us as a conference having the confidence and courage to take on the bold issues the American people sent us here to deal with.”

The Ohio lawmaker wants Republicans to pick one major issue then rally around it.

In his five years as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, he shepherded through President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, winning plaudits from activists as the key proponent of school choice.

Last year he also won passage of the Pension Protection Act after doing an end-run around Mr. Blunt, who said there wasn’t enough support to bring it up. Mr. Boehner made some changes, organized his own whip team to count the votes and proved the bill could pass.

While the other two say a shake-up is needed, Mr. Blunt is telling members to stick with the team that at the end of last year pushed through an immigration enforcement bill, an across-the-board spending cut and a smaller increase in entitlement funding.

His supporters say he marries a conservative outlook with the ability to see what issues have majority support and build those votes.

“It is hard to get 218 members to move the country in the direction that our conference would like to see it move,” he said.

As the current whip, it’s his job to know the members and their concerns, and he has visited more than half of House Republicans’ districts over the last two years.

While Mr. Blunt backs lobbying reforms, he says the rest of the Republican agenda matters, too.

“The reform proposals, while they’re important, if they become your vision of what this conference and this Congress is all about, that would be a very false start,” he said. “We certainly can’t afford to lose this year to structural reform that has no impact on the American public.”

Mr. Shadegg admitted yesterday he probably trails the other two men but says things can change going into Thursday. Mr. Boehner, meanwhile, says every person who supports Mr. Shadegg is a vote to change the current leadership, which will help him on a second ballot.

Mr. Boehner yesterday said he has not had any conversation with Mr. Shadegg about joining to work against Mr. Blunt.

However, he did accuse Mr. Blunt of making deals with other members to try to win their votes, saying other members had told him this. He would not say what the deals were.

Mr. Blunt flatly denied that: “There are no examples of that.”

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