- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Edwin J. Feulner butts heads with Republican presidents when he has to.

The Heritage Foundation president knows that while American presidents come and go, he and the powerful think tank he has guided for more than 30 years remain in Washington holding Republican politicians’ feet to the fire.

He gave a flat “no” when asked whether he needs to be careful about what he says, lest he lose access to and influence with the president and congressional leaders.

“We led the charge on Medicare,” he said, referring to Heritage’s opposition to the expansion of government under President Bush’s prescription-drug plan.


President of the Heritage Foundation, 1977 to present

Born: Aug. 12, 1941, in Chicago

Education: Bachelor of science degree, Regis College, 1963; master of business administration, University of Pennsylvania, 1964; doctorate, University of Edinburgh, 1981

Family: Wife, Linda C. Leventhal Feulner; children, Edwin, Emily

Career highlights: Confidential assistant, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, 1969-70; administrative assistant, Rep. Phil Crane, Illinois Republican, 1970-74; executive director, House Republican Study Committee, 1974-77

Source: The Washington Times

“Two years ago, we basically cut ourselves off to the point where I was disinvited to any meetings in the Republican leaders’ offices on the House side, where I was being condemned by people inside the White House,” said Mr. Feulner, a native of Chicago who began his career in Washington during the Nixon presidency.

“We did the same thing with Bush 41 on his reneging on the ‘no tax increase’ pledge. And John Sununu reamed me out over that,” he said. Mr. Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor, was White House chief of staff for former President George Bush.

And where is Mr. Sununu now?

“That’s the point,” said Mr. Feulner. “I told him, ‘Heritage has been around town for almost 25 years and … we’re going to be around a lot longer even than this administration will be if, God willing, it’s re-elected. But we are going to call them the way we see them.’ ”

Mr. Feulner and the conservative movement he has been a part of have come a long way from his days as a congressional staff aide. The movement now swims comfortably in the mainstream of American politics, he said.

It wasn’t always that way. In 1964, Mr. Feulner backed Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s Republican presidential candidacy.

“A Jesuit friend and professor at Regis College in Denver once told me that a thinking Catholic could not in good conscience be a Barry Goldwater conservative,” he recalled. “I said, well, that means either I’m not thinking, not Catholic or I’ve got to change my political views — none of which is acceptable.”

Nine years later, Mr. Feulner helped create the Heritage Foundation to steer national public policy right, mostly by influencing members of Congress and their staff.

Sixteen more years had passed when Ronald Reagan, two days before leaving the White House, bestowed the Presidential Citizens Medal on Mr. Feulner, calling him “a voice of reason and values in service to his country and the cause of freedom around the world.”

The National Journal, in a recent story, called Heritage the “movement’s crown jewel.”

From its birth, Heritage has been flooding the offices of Senate and House members, the White House and newsrooms across the country with almost daily policy papers on timely issues prepared by its resident scholars.

Other conservative think tanks, inspired by Heritage’s success, have followed suit. But with a budget of $38 million and nearly 200 employees, Heritage is the biggest marketer of conservative ideas around.

“If you look at where our ideas were 25 or 30 years ago, we are the mainstream,” Mr. Feulner said. “When we began, there was still the belief that the nanny state somehow was going to solve things. Now, there not only is not that belief but it’s been positively proven wrong.”

He recalled an encounter from an era when Republicans seemed destined to be the permanent minority in the House.

One day in 1982, Mr. Feulner met at the Capitol with House Minority Leader Bob Michel and other top House Republicans to discuss Heritage’s agenda for that year. “I want to talk about tax reform, regulation and Social Security reform,” Mr. Feulner told them.

The reference to Social Security reform prompted Mr. Michel to put his hand on Mr. Feulner’s arm and say, “Ed, we don’t utter those words inside this building.”

“The point is, 23 years ago, nobody could talk about changing Social Security,” Mr. Feulner said. “Today, the whole debate is the mainstream issue that people are talking about.”

Mr. Feulner describes himself as a conservative first and a Republican second, but is a staunch defender of the GOP and is critical of ex-Republican conservatives like columnist Pat Buchanan and former Nixon administration official Howard Phillips.

“If you’re a conservative and want to get ahead politically, you ought to be a Republican,” Mr. Feulner said.

He describes himself as a limited-government, live-and-let-live conservative who doesn’t like messing with the Constitution, but does not criticize Mr. Bush for backing a constitutional ban on same-sex “marriage.”

“All of a sudden, you get clobbered out of left field with a decision like the Massachusetts supreme court’s approving gay marriage,” he said. “What kind of nuttiness is going on? If the Episcopalians want to ordain a gay bishop, that’s their business. I’m not an Episcopalian. I don’t care. When the court up there says something that’s going to affect everybody, I do care.

“So, yeah, a carefully worded amendment to the Constitution is potentially in order and a shot across the bow of activist judges across the country that shouldn’t really be making law from the bench,” he said. “They should be interpreting what’s already on the books.”

Yet he is more concerned about the growth of the federal government under a Republican president and Congress. “You look at the size of government — that’s what’s horrifying to me,” Mr. Feulner said. “A few years ago, we were complaining about the size of government.

“Admittedly, tax rates were much higher and so government growth was more painful, but in terms of government spending, it’s much higher now. You say to yourself, boy, we better learn something about how to govern as conservatives.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that conservatives don’t go to school to learn how to govern — most come from business backgrounds.

“You know, I shouldn’t really be here,” he said. “I should be running my family’s business out in Chicago, making millions of dollars a year and being very, very successful at it.”

Instead, he “came down to Washington to fight these policy wars,” equipped with an Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

After nearly 40 years in Washington, the conservative movement’s goals haven’t changed much. They’ve just grown.

“You’ve got what my military friends call a target-rich environment — conservatives in the House, Senate and administration, and even starting to percolate down inside the bureaucracy,” he said. “Conservatives are basically in charge of all the institutions of the federal government. The one that most often calls the shots on policy issues is the guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So you try to have influence there as well as up here on Capitol Hill.”

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