- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

Social-conservative groups have warned Republicans that their voters feel unappreciated and frustrated with Congress and that the party must get more aggressive on such values issues as marriage, human cloning, religious freedom and abortion if they want a decent turnout from the conservative base in November.

“That message has definitely been conveyed,” said Jim Backlin, vice president for legislative affairs at the Christian Coalition.

The House and Senate are expected to vote this year on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and Mr. Backlin said a recent meeting with Republican leaders leaves him confident that the Senate also will vote for the first time on a few key pro-life bills.

Leading conservative activists have been sounding off lately, frustrated that since 2004, when their voters turned out in force to help President Bush win re-election, the Republican Party has backed off the values issues. A constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage” failed in 2004 to get the required two-thirds majority in both houses.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Let’s address values issues,” wrote conservative activist Gary Bauer last week in a memo to friends and supporters, noting that 19 states have amended their state constitutions to protect marriage with an average approval vote of 70 percent, yet many lawmakers still shy away.

“What I don’t get is, why there is so much reticence on the part of our public servants to defend normal marriage beyond an obligatory press release or applause line in a stump speech?” he said.

A Family Research Council poll released last week found that 63 percent of social-conservative voters think Congress has not acted on a pro-family agenda on such issues as marriage, abortion and broadcast decency.

“In the Republican Party in general, when it comes to Christian conservatives, we don’t exist except during election years,” said Tom McClusky, acting vice president for government affairs at the FRC.

“The efforts of social conservatives get forgotten in the Republican Party too easily,” Mr. Backlin said. “It’s up to pro-family groups to remind the leaders of the Republican Party that we are the major constituency … and they can’t take us for granted.”

Focus on the Family and similar groups will hold a “Values Voters Summit” in September in Washington to re-engage disillusioned members and build strategy for the coming elections.

Much of the conservative anger is directed at the Senate, the activists said. Mr. Backlin said that out of 400 Senate votes in 2005, only one was even moderately important to his group. Mr. McClusky said that three years after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” halftime incident, the Senate has yet to act on TV decency.

He also noted that House Republican leaders angered conservatives last year by letting their chamber vote on a bipartisan bill to expand embryonic stem-cell research. In compensation, conservative groups were promised another House vote to ban human cloning, but “we haven’t seen anything like that.”

Still, after meeting with Republican leaders recently, conservative activists are cautiously optimistic for the rest of the year.

On tap for action in the Senate, Republican aides confirmed, is an anti-flag-burning amendment and a House-passed bill making it a federal crime to skirt a state parental-notification law by taking a minor to another state to obtain an abortion without her parents’ involvement. The House will probably vote for the first time on a relatively new bill requiring doctors to inform women seeking abortions that the procedure will cause pain to the unborn child, said a House Republican aide.

There’s also talk in the Senate about taking action against what some conservatives see as a judicial attack on the Pledge of Allegiance because of the phrase “under God,” one Senate Republican aide said. The House passed such a measure in 2004.

“Just those three alone — marriage, abortion and religious freedom … that would be really exciting to our grass roots, and it’d probably ensure that the Republicans keep the House and Senate,” Mr. Backlin said.

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