Washington was stunned Thursday to learn stalwart Sen. Jim DeMint will leave Congress in January to run the Heritage Foundation. The South Carolina Republican has been the leading conservative voice in the upper chamber, bravely going up against a party leadership that has a record of striking dubious deals with President Obama.
Mr. DeMint says Washington can’t change on its own, so he has worked tirelessly outside the Beltway to keep his party from veering leftward. His political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, was instrumental in bringing Tea Party candidates to the Senate in 2010.
Mr. DeMint bucked the chosen primary picks of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to endorse and fund more conservative candidates, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah. It’s now up to these Tea Partyers to fill the void left by Mr. DeMint’s departure.
In the House, there also is a transition, as Rep. Steve Scalise will take over in January as chairman of the limited-government caucus, the Republican Study Committee (RSC). He replaces Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a term-limited member who earned respect with his fiscally sound “cut, cap and balance” blueprint to balance the budget.
Mr. Scalise intends to continue holding the line on taxes and spending in the next few months as the “fiscal cliff,” debt ceiling, continuing resolution and Obamacare issues take center stage. “The RSC is the conservative rudder of our conference in the House,” he told The Washington Times in an interview Wednesday. “In this climate, especially, with the president getting re-elected and strengthened numbers for Harry Reid, the House is the last line of defense against liberal policies.”
The Louisiana Republican, who is going on his third term, says the biggest challenge will arrive around February, when the federal government once again runs up against its borrowing limit. The vote to raise the debt ceiling is the only leverage Republicans have to pressure the White House to cut spending. Of course, Mr. Obama knows that, too, so that’s why the president wants to grant himself the sole authority to raise the debt limit forever.
The new RSC chairman, who voted against the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal, said Mr. Obama’s request for “a blank check is a radical proposal because it ignores the main problem and the reason our bond rating was downgraded — we spend too much money.” For the current negotiations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner, Mr. Scalise said he won’t go along with any deal that raises taxes. He is planning to release an RSC policy alternative to spending allocation in advance of the continuing-resolution fight in late March and proposals to solve health care problems from a conservative perspective.
The fiscal-cliff showdown is just the opening bid in a larger game with Mr. Obama. Congressional Republicans need to not sacrifice key principles to win a battle only to be trounced in the war. More than ever, congressional conservatives must make sure their voices are heard before any deal is signed, sealed and delivered to the American people.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.