Republican Party officials say they will try next month to pass a resolution accusing President Bush and congressional Republican leaders of embracing “socialism,” underscoring deep dissension within the party at the end of Mr. Bush’s administration.
Those pushing the resolution, which will come before the Republican National Committee at its January meeting, say elected leaders need to be reminded of core principles. They said the RNC must take the dramatic step of wading into policy debates, which traditionally have been left to lawmakers.
“We can’t be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms,” said Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of a resolution that criticizes the U.S. government bailouts of the financial and auto industries.
Republican National Committee Vice Chairman James Bopp Jr. wrote the resolution and asked the rest of the 168 voting members to sign it.
“The resolution also opposes President-elect Obama’s proposed public works program and supports conservative alternatives,” while encouraging the RNC “to engage in vigorous public policy debates consistent with our party platform,” said Mr. Bopp, a leading attorney for pro-life groups who has also challenged the campaign finance legislation that Mr. Bush signed.
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If enacted, the resolution would put the party on record opposing the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, which passed Congress with Republican support and was signed by Mr. Bush, and opposing the bailout of the auto industry. The auto bailout bill was blocked by Senate Republicans, but Mr. Bush then reversed course and announced that he would use financial bailout money to aid the auto manufacturers.
The RNC usually plays a policy role only every four years when it frames the national party platform, which typically is forgotten quickly.
In 2006, some party members presented a resolution challenging Mr. Bush’s plan to legalize illegal immigrants and enact a guest-worker program. Mr. Bush’s lieutenants fought back, arguing that the party should not tie the president’s hands on a policy issue, and the RNC capitulated, passing an alternate White House-backed resolution instead.
This time, the backers of the new resolution say they will not be deterred by a fight, and say they have the numbers to pull off this rebellion.
“We have enough co-sponsors to take this to the RNC floor” at the party’s Jan. 28-31 annual winter meeting in Washington, Mr. Bopp said. “I will take it to the Resolutions Committee, but I intend to press this issue to the floor for decision.”
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth said it’s time for the RNC to end the disconnect between what the party platform says and what elected Republicans do.
“It is time the party gets involved in policy issues and forces candidates to respond to the platform,” Mr. Emineth said. “Frankly the way we view the platform is a joke. We work hard to drive our principles into the platform, then candidates ignore it.”
“If the party doesn’t move in this direction, we will continue to be irrelevant. Whoever has the larger star power will continue to win, and what they stand for and believe will become less relevant,” Mr. Emineth said.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom voted for the financial bailout but opposed the auto bailout, declined to comment.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto defended the Bush administration’s actions, saying, “We understand the opposition to using tax dollars to support private businesses we also oppose using tax dollars to support private businesses. But this was the necessary and responsible thing to do to prevent a collapse of the American economy.”
Several RNC members including some of Mr. Bopp’s fellow conservatives are not pleased with the idea of having it make policy instead of simply minding the campaign fundraising store.
Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party, said the party also can’t be seen endorsing a do-nothing approach.
“We have to be careful not to confuse passing resolutions for action, or creating a situation where people interpret the lack of some resolution as an excuse for inaction on an important issue,” he said.
The resolution says: “WHEREAS, the Bank Bailout Bill effectively nationalized the Nation’s banking system, giving the United States non-voting warrants from participating financial institutions, and moving our free market based economy another dangerous step closer toward socialism; and WHEREAS, what was needed, and is still needed, to fix the banking industry is not a bailout, but rather a commitment to fiscal responsibility.”
The financial sector bailout passed the House by a vote of 263-171 with 91 Republicans backing it, and passed the Senate by a 74-25 vote with 34 Republicans in favor. The auto bailout passed the House by a 237-170 vote with 32
Republicans supporting it, but was blocked by a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate, with just 10 Republicans voting to advance the bill.
The RNC’s sole job historically has been to raise money for candidates and to pass the party line down the food chain to state and local leaders. Policy has been set by the party’s congressional leaders and, when a Republican sits in the White House, by the president.
The same has been true for the Democratic National Committee.
The Bopp-Yue vanguard say they are determined to change that.
“For the past eight years, the RNC has been the political outreach of the White House,” said Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, another resolution co-sponsor who led the 2006 immigration fight and who opposed Mr.
Bush’s “economic policies promoting the ‘ownership society’ because they would eventually lead to the financial meltdown we are currently experiencing.”
“It is now time for the RNC to assert itself in terms of ideas and political philosophy,” Mr. Pullen added. “If we don’t do it now, when will we?”
Mr. Bopp, a social conservative who has served as counsel to pro-life groups, said, “We must stand for and publicly advocate our conservative principles as a party 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.”
The RNC revolutionaries leave no doubt they mean to turn the committee into policy-producing and enforcing machine.
“In the long run, we want to see this committee play an active philosophical-policy leadership role for the national GOP,” Mr. Yue said.
But it remains unclear whether the rules or the machinery exist for enforcing such a resolution on Republican elected officials.
Jon Ward contributed to this report.