- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

They are out of power after consecutive Election Day beatings, and recession has made the concept of fiscal restraint an even tougher sell than in years past. Yet Tom Price says it’s a “wonderful time” to be a conservative.

The Georgia congressman recently took over as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a House caucus devoted to crafting and promoting conservative policies. Though his view that the present holds an “incredible opportunity” for the right may be unsurprising, Mr. Price’s assessment that the country is on the same page as conservatives is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

“If you think about it, the person that won the presidency won telling America that he was going to cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people, that he was going to go through every single line item of the budget and make certain that it was necessary and that he was going to increase the size of the military,” said Mr. Price, whose district includes the northern suburbs of Atlanta. “Those are conservative issues. This nation remains a common-sense, solutions-based conservative nation.”

Of course, the country elected Barack Obama and a majority of Democrats - not their Republican challengers - a reality not lost on Mr. Price.

“I’ll be the first to admit that Republicans lost their way and the American people recognized that,” he said. “The kind of spending that has gone on over the last eight years has been a betrayal of conservative fiscal responsibility, and we need to readily admit that and say that’s not where we are philosophically; it’s not what we will do once we regain the majority.”

The caucus describes itself as an “independent research arm of Republicans,” a place where like-minded legislators can band together to influence policy. With more than 100 members, including most of the party’s leadership team, the RSC, by its numbers alone, is a powerful lobby within the House Republican Conference.

Mr. Price, who just started his third term in Congress, impressed his conservative colleagues last summer when he helped lead House Republicans’ protests against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s adjourning without allowing a vote on offshore oil drilling.

“Tom really showed his leadership last year with the energy debate,” said Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the RSC. “He’s perfect for the job.”

Nevertheless, as far as the public is concerned, Mr. Price says conservatives have a “credibility gap” between what they are and what they have done in the past.

“That takes some time to mend. My goal is to make certain that’s a short period of time.”

The departure of former President Bush, who left office with dismal approval ratings, certainly helps the mending process. The task now, Mr. Price says, is to back up criticisms of the Democratic majority’s ideas with effective conservative proposals.

“The strategy is to make certain that, for every erroneous, mistake-ridden piece of legislation that the other side brings forward that does not embrace the American values and the American vision, we have a positive, solutions-based alternative and that we push that forward as aggressively and as actively as we can,” he said.

The first test has been the Democrats’ $819 billion economic recovery package, which passed Thursday without a single Republican vote. RSC members, less than two weeks into the session, touted their own stimulus bill before details of the Obama plan were even publicly available. But it went nowhere in a Democrat-controlled Congress.

“There’s no evidence - no evidence anywhere in the world - that you can spend this kind of money and have it result in a recovery,” Mr. Price says of the Democrats’ spending package, which has moved on to the Senate. “The nation’s really lost track of the number of zeros.”

The RSC plan called for cutting income taxes across the board by 5 percent, boosting the child tax credit from $1,000 to $5,000 and slashing the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. In addition, the group wants to make the lower 15 percent capital gains tax, set to expire at the end of next year, permanent.

When asked about the Republican Party’s failure to make the kind of inroads with younger voters that helped propel Mr. Obama to the White House, Mr. Price’s first response is: “We need to talk to them.

“I firmly believe that the solutions that we will be putting on the table are in the best interests of not just the nation but in the best interest of every demographic group in the nation,” he said. “Young folks are no different. The last thing that the younger generation of this nation wants is to spend $1 trillion-plus deficit year after year after year, because it’s not my generation that’s going to be paying for that - it’s theirs.”

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