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“How Conservatives Lost 2015”: Talked A Big Game But Ended Up Losing Almost Every Big Legislative Battle

Establishment Republicans had a miserable year on the campaign trail. But on Capitol Hill—far from Make America Great Again hats—they cleaned up.

Conservatives on the Hill, emboldened by Republican gains in the midterm elections, followed the battle cry of the Heritage Foundation’s powerful lobbying arm against their Establishment overlords. But over the past year, they’ve faced defeat after biting defeat.

Most of these wins were on wonky, unsexy issues—like funding for infrastructure construction and rules about how the president can negotiate trade agreements. Not exactly the most scintillating stuff.

But while these individual debates may not have galvanized national attention, they were hugely important to Tea Party-friendly conservative groups. And the cumulative losses these groups face suggest that their clout may have flatlined or they overplayed their hands.

Heritage Action, the lobbying wing of the powerful Heritage Foundation think tank, got a major shellacking in March during the fight over “Doc Fix” legislation, which overhauled how doctors who treat Medicare patients get reimbursed. Heritage Action key-voted against the bill, citing concerns that it would grow the national debt by half a trillion dollars over twenty years. Despite the group’s protestations, though, the Doc Fix passed the House with just 37 no votes (only 4 of whom were Democrats). In the Senate, just 8 members voted against it.

It was a tough loss for Heritage Action. And many more followed. Trade legislation drew significant opposition from the group in June, as members fought over whether Congress would give the president extra authority to negotiate trade deals, allocate funds to support Americans who lose jobs due to said deals. While issues like Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Promotion Authority may not roll off the tongue of your average Tea Partier (or, well, your average human being), Heritage Action’s key-voting against trade provisions helped energize grassroots conservative opposition. That, combined with Breitbart News and the Drudge Report’s liberal (and frantic) use of the “Obamatrade” moniker stoked opposition on the right.

And all those guys lost.

Congress gave the president additional authority to negotiate trade deals and allocated more funds to help Americans who lose jobs to overseas competition, and the president announced he plans to have the U.S. sign on to the new Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“Is Anyone Still Scared of Heritage Action?” wondered National Journal. It was a good question.

And it was a question that arose again in July, when legislation came up to change funding for the National Institutes of Health and the FDA. The bill was called the 21st Century Cures Act, and, well, was complicated. Heritage Action opposed it adamantly, for comparably complicated reasons. If NIH funding mechanisms get your juices flowing, check out Heritage Action’s release explaining its stance. If not, just rest assured that it was a big deal for the group, and the group lost. Seventy-seven House members voted against the bill, seventy of whom were Republicans.

And, of course, there’s perhaps the unsexiest issue of all: the highway bill! Next time you’re trying to get out of an unpleasant conversation, just bring up infrastructure funding and see what happens. The highway bill allowed more than $300 billion for transportation spending, and it reauthorized the Export-Import Bank—a program that gives loans to U.S. businesses that have overseas commerce, and that conservatives have long criticized as corporate welfare. Heritage Action’s denunciation of the bill said the highway projects were funded with “almost exclusively with embarrassing budget gimmicks.”

The Ex-Im bank’s funding expired this summer, and Congress couldn’t get it reauthorized—due in large part to conservative opposition—until the Highway Bill came up.

“Ending this bank was a major blow to the culture of crony capitalism festering in Washington,” said Heritage Action’s statement, “and reviving it now damages the conservative movement and the credibility of efforts to rid the federal government of favoritism for special interests.”

The president signed the bill early in December.

But there was one last loss to be felt: the year-end omnibus spending bill—a legislative package full of the kind of spending projects that make conservatives want to scratch their eyeballs out, including funding for Planned Parenthood. Heritage Action, naturally, key-voted against it. And the House, as was natural in 2015, passed it anyway.

It wasn’t always this way. During the 2013 government shutdown, Heritage Action exerted enormous influence to pressure members of Congress against supporting any funding for the Affordable Care Act. And members shivered at the prospect of facing primary challengers who would attack them over low marks on the group’s vote scorecard. But now, much of that fear seems to have abated.

“When Heritage key-votes against a bill now, it is almost guaranteed to get less conservative, and guaranteed to pass both chambers and become law,” said one former Republican House leadership staffer. “They have reverse Midas touch.”

Heritage Action didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2016

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Establishment Republicans, Heritage Foundation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Off To A Good Start”: Heritage Tries Its Hand At News, But Forgets The Facts

The Daily Signal,  The Heritage Foundation’s online “news” website, debuted Tuesday, offering up vagaries and unverifiable assertions aplenty, but too few empirical facts and little in the way of attribution. Its first video was a publicist’s dream, a puff piece that no serious news organization would air.

What appears in The Daily Signal matters because it is assured a large audience eager for reinforcement of deeply embedded views, but no real evidence that would challenge or even bring into question the factual basis of those views.

Reader comments on the Signal’s first investigative piece – the only solid piece of fact-based journalism it published Tuesday – showed just how eager Signal readers are to read confirmation of their biases into pieces and to ignore inconvenient facts, especially subtly presented truths that run contrary to the Heritage Foundation’s well-established perspectives.

Heritage opened its doors in 1973 and has since worked to ensure business dominance of American politics and government. It likes to describe itself as the true champion of the poor in America. A realistic appraisal of its policies shows that it favors protecting existing wealth against the creative destruction by which the existing economic structure is constantly under siege from new wealth seekers.

Heritage also turns a blind eye to the many stealth forms of welfare for the already rich that I detailed in my books Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch, and The Fine Print.

America needs fact-based, insightful and aggressive journalism — both opinion and fact — from every point on the spectrum. But sadly, much of what we get from what mainstream news organizations mislabel  “conservative” is radical rhetoric that far too often has little basis in fact or even reality.

Progressives and liberals in particular should encourage, and read, quality journalism from the right because it will help weed out flabby, half-baked ideas by everyone not in accord with the Koch brothers and Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Without rigorous journalism from the far right, the whole country suffers a paucity of informing debate.

The framers used empiricism and reason to make their case for our Constitution and were critical of naked assertion, vague accusations and failure to test hypothesis with verifiable facts.

The breathtaking distortions and even lies by some of our best-known opinion journalists who self-identify as conservatives drew my scrutiny in National Memo columns this year, which you can read here, here, here and here.

The Signal surely cannot quarrel with my call for fact-based news and opinion, as its website says, “We are committed to news coverage that is accurate, fair and trustworthy. As we surveyed the media landscape, it became clear to us that the need for honest, thorough, responsible reporting has never been more critical. That’s a challenge in today’s fast-moving world. And it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.”

The website then proclaims:

We are dedicated to developing a news outlet that cuts straight to the heart of key political and policy arguments – not spin reported as news. The Daily Signal is supported by the resources and intellectual firepower of The Heritage Foundation – a dedicated team of experienced journalists to cover the news and more than 100 policy experts who can quickly help put issues in perspective. We believe this combination of news, commentary and policy analysis will establish The Daily Signal as a trusted source on America’s most important issues.

We believe that high-quality, credible news reporting on political and policy issues is of paramount importance to an informed and free society. This is a reflection of that Jeffersonian notion that the greatest defense of liberty is an informed citizenry.

So, let’s take a look first at the Signal’s featured first-day video, an interview with Sharyl Attkisson, a former reporter and anchor for CBS, CNN and PBS.  The headline is hyped, describing an interview with the Signal’s own correspondent as “exclusive.”

The headline also promises a report on “Journalism’s Very Dangerous Trend” but presents zero verifiable evidence of anything dangerous or even of any trend.

After Attkisson quit CBS, she told Bill O’Reilly in April that her Benghazi, Obamacare and “Fast and Furious” gun stories did not make the air because senior producers lost interest. O’Reilly, an entertainer possessed of masterfully honed commercial instincts, skillfully conflated that into an implication of foul motives at CBS without a shred of empirical evidence that anyone could verify. Classic O’Reilly.

At The Daily Signal, producer Kelsey Harkness tossed Attkisson softballs, even puffballs. As edited, the video shows zero effort to get beyond rhetoric to empirical evidence — names, dates, specific stories, etc. Naked assertion without verifiable specifics is not reporting, it is propaganda, an irony evidently lost on the Signal’s editors.

Harkness promises two more installments, so perhaps we will see some actual reporting by her in the days ahead. Hopefully she will improve with experience, but if not, she can look forward to a superb career as a flack, as reporters call publicists.

The Daily Signal let Attkisson mix and conflate issues in a way no serious and experienced journalist would let pass. Her vague assertions about CBS newsroom managers, as edited, flowed seamlessly into a different issue — non-journalists who use social media to confuse the public.

Attkisson gave no specifics, nor did Harkness ask for any. Attkisson did express a belief that stories want to “tell themselves” in “natural” ways, whatever that means.

News does not exist in nature. It does not just happen. News is made by reporters who gather facts, check and crosscheck them, seek out a range of perspectives and present what they learn in the time available as narrative, attributing facts to sources. Reported columns, like this one, combine those facts with expert knowledge gained through years of study and practice.

Differences between reporters in the field and editors at their desks are, and always will be, sources of disagreement and even angry words.

Different news organizations also have different takes on what is significant and where the heart of the story lies, as shown by academic studies. Long ago, a front-page series in the Los Angeles Times by the late David Shaw, the pioneering news-as-a-beat reporter, documented how little the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers have in common. That’s competition for you.

Attkisson has done serious work, winning Emmys and once being named a finalist for an Investigative Reporters and Editors award. But as presented by The Daily Signal, she comes across as a disgruntled former employee who does not offer even one telling detail to back up her vague implications of news distortions.

News distortions do sometimes occur. In 1973 I exposed how for years the owner of what was said to be the most profitable TV station in America and five other broadcast outlets issued orders to manipulate the news to advance his commercial interests, which eventually resulted in the forced sale of those stations.

Attkisson’s own words describe what is nothing more than routine disagreements about significance, yet The Daily Signal gullibly presented her story without a single tough question.

Attkisson also indicates she may have been late on some of the stories, coming up not with solid facts, but merely tantalizing leads she wanted to pursue. In TV news, where immediacy is paramount, potential new angles on last week’s news to be offered sometime next month is not a formula for success. But The Daily Signal failed to explore this perfectly legitimate and routine basis for telling Attkisson to move on to more pressing stories.

This puff video comes with the Signal’s first investigative piece, a report by Attkisson about deceiving parents of premature babies into participating in a federally funded medical experiment. It is a troubling tale that I recommend.

But unless you are a careful reader, you could miss that these experiments all took place during the George W. Bush administration.

That brings us back to Heritage’s new outlet feeding an audience what it wants rather than what it needs to know. Deciding what matters among an overwhelming array of choices is the judgment for which journalists get paid.

One of the first to comment on Attkisson’s investigative piece wrote: “Don’t forget that this is the Obama administration. The same people that burn aborted babies to generate electricity.”

Many of the other comments on the piece, and the video, are also mindless screeds against Obama, Democrats and anyone with whose views the posters viscerally disagree. Plenty of liberal and centrist websites post equally mindless comments, a practice that would diminish if people had to sign their real names.

America needs well-informed, thoughtful and fact-respecting conservative journalists. Without serious and fact-based, issue-oriented journalism, we get civic debates that confuse rather than enlighten, we get poorly conceived ideas that sometimes become law. The quality of our civic debate matters so long as we intend to choose our own fate.

Going forward, I hope that new websites managers demonstrate that they are in fact in the business of news, a difficult task given that The Daily Signal is an arm of an advocacy organization with a well-established reputation for ignoring important issues, not the least among them how its supporters sup with big spoons at the public trough. They are not off to a good start, but that can change if The Daily Signal is really about what its website asserts.

 

By; David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, June 4, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Heritage Foundation, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Discredited Nonsense Gets Recycled”: Be On The Lookout For Republicans Touting Heritage Foundation Talking Points Again

In the spring, when it was clear that comprehensive immigration reform would be the year’s biggest legislative fight in Congress, the Heritage Foundation wanted to give far-right lawmakers the ammunition they’d need to kill the bill. The group published a report conservative Republicans could ostensibly use to justify their reflexive opposition to the bipartisan proposal.

The result was a fiasco. First, the report itself was exposed as ridiculous, even by conservatives who often agree with Heritage, relying on lazy and incomplete scholarship. Second, one of the report’s co-authors was a guy by the name of Jason Richwine, who’s spent quite a bit of time arguing that white people are inherently more intelligent than people of color.

Soon after, Richwine resigned from Heritage and fair-minded people dismissed the group’s discredited report as nonsense. And yet, as my MSNBC colleague Benjy Sarlin reported yesterday, Heritage hasn’t given up on its document just yet.

Heritage may have distanced itself from its former scholar’s views on race, but not the study he did for their think tank. In a memo to Congressional staff obtained by msnbc, Heritage legislative strategist Tripp Baird said that while some supporters of reform on the Hill this week are “well meaning” in their concern for immigrants, “they’re being used to advance an amnesty policy that is far from conservative, and will cost trillions to American taxpayers.” Another talking point suggests that evangelical Christians supporting immigration reform “probably aren’t aware of the severe fiscal consequences of amnesty for American taxpayers.”

The “cost trillions” line echoes a report co-authored for Heritage by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine.

Yes, in May, Heritage’s report said immigration reform would cost over $6 trillion – a figure even many on the right found laughable. Soon after, independent analyses, including a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, found that the reform package would actually save hundreds of billions of dollars.

Stepping back, it appears the Heritage Foundation simply hopes lawmakers have forgotten what transpired six months ago. The group published its report, saw it quickly discredited, and largely stopped talking about it. That is, until now, when Heritage decided enough time has passed that it can start repeating the identical bogus claims all over again.

It’s difficult to imagine even the most craven lawmakers taking this seriously, but you never know. Be on the lookout for members touting Heritage talking points anyway.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 30, 2013

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Heritage Foundation, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Will Republicans Learn?”: Jim DeMInt And The Heritage Foundation Simply Do Not Have Their Best Interests At Heart

After congressional Republicans’ total surrender finally ended the government shutdown that they caused, and removed the country from the brink of a calamitous debt default, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) joined MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown on Thursday morning to break down the costly political defeat.

In Hatch’s estimation, the Heritage Foundation and its political arm, Heritage Action for America, deserve a good portion of the blame.

“Heritage used to be the conservative organization helping Republicans and helping conservatives and helping us to be able to have the best intellectual conservative ideas,” the seven-term senator explained. “There’s a real question on the minds of many Republicans now…is Heritage going to go so political that it doesn’t amount to anything anymore?”

“Right now I think it’s in danger of losing its clout and its power around Washington, D.C.,” Hatch added.

If Republicans are smart, they should be doing everything possible to make sure that Hatch is proven correct. Arguably no single force has been more destructive to the Republican Party since the 2012 election than Heritage.

After President Barack Obama routed Mitt Romney among Latino voters by an overwhelming 71 to 27 percent margin last November, many Republicans — including the Republican National Committee — accurately diagnosed the GOP’s performance among the rapidly growing demographic as a huge impediment to winning national elections in the future. Most focused on comprehensive immigration reform as the best solution to the problem. And while fixing the broken immigration system would not be the cure-all that many Republicans hope, there’s no question that a sincere effort to solve the crisis would go a long way toward erasing Latino voters’ memories of “self-deportation.”

Ignoring that logic, Heritage stepped in to stop congressional Republicans from helping the nation — and themselves.

As debate over a comprehensive immigration reform bill heated up in Congress, the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that the bill would cost a minimum of $6.3 trillion over the lifetimes of the 11 million immigrants who could gain legal status as a result. The report utilized a deeply flawed methodology — even many Republicans scoffed at its shoddy accounting — and quickly turned into a public relations nightmare once it was revealed that one of the authors admitted that he hadn’t even read the bill in question, and the other had posted inflammatory articles about Latinos’ inferior intelligence to a “white nationalist” website. In other words, Heritage managed to neatly personify the ignorant bigotry from which the Republican Party was desperately trying to distance itself.

Heritage Action would go on to strongly warn Republicans against passing any serious immigration reforms. And although they were unable to prevent the comprehensive bill’s passage in the Senate — with the support of 14 Republicans — it kept up the pressure on the House of Representatives, which is full of more conservative members with more reason to fear challenges from the right (due to their two-year terms and extremely conservative districts).

Heritage’s efforts have been successful so far; almost four months after the Senate passed the immigration bill, it appears to be dead in the water in the House. Meanwhile, 75 percent of Latinos now disapprove of congressional Republicans. Additionally, by encouraging the right to rise up against immigration reform, Heritage may have dealt a fatal blow to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) chances of navigating the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, potentially removing a top-tier presidential candidate from the board.

Heritage also damaged the GOP by politicizing the farm bill. Usually the legislation, which contains both subsidies for farmers and food aid for working Americans, is one of few initiatives to gain bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. This year, however, Heritage Action demanded that the bill be split into two sections: a “farm-only bill” containing the agricultural subsidies, and a separate bill dealing with food aid — and mandating sharp cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (more commonly known as food stamps).

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) put forth an amendment to split the farm bill, as Heritage Action proposed, but it failed to pass. Heritage Action then “keyed” a no vote on the bill, leading 62 House Republicans to oppose it — enough to prevent its passage, due to the opposition of Democrats who were appalled by its harsh cuts to food aid.

The bill’s failure was a tremendous black eye for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and clearly established that he was at the mercy of the right wing of his caucus — a condition that helped lead him into the disastrous shutdown and debt ceiling standoff.

Two weeks later, the House would pass a split bill without any funding for food stamp and nutrition programs — reinforcing the party’s damaging image as a group that does not care about the struggles of everyday Americans. And for their trouble, Heritage Action slammed those Republicans who voted for the bill that it had supported just weeks earlier, now claiming that the legislation “would make permanent farm policies—like the sugar program—that harm consumers and taxpayers alike.”

Heritage Action’s reversal infuriated many Republicans, and even led the influential House Republican Study Committee to ban the group from its meetings. But it ultimately did very little to reduce Heritage’s reach within the party, as the government shutdown would show.

As Time‘s Zeke Miller has reported, nobody did more to cause the shutdown than Heritage Action. Although Republican leadership had hoped to avoid another politically disastrous budget battle, they did not anticipate the right’s commitment to battling over the law — a fervor that was whipped up by Heritage. Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham took a nine-city bus tour with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), demanding that conservatives stand up against Obamacare, whatever the costs. The group spent $550,000 on a digital advertising campaign criticizing Republican congressmembers for perceived weakness on the issue. It keyed votes against any government funding bill that wouldn’t dismantle health care reform. It aggressively used social media to promote Senator Cruz’s 21-hour non-filibuster against the Affordable Care Act. And it assured Republicans that provoking a crisis over the law would not cripple them politically.

As we now know, that was not the case. The shutdown totally failed to stop the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, but it did send the GOP’s poll numbers into a freefall, and seriously jeopardize the party’s once-bulletproof House majority. And once again, for their troubles, right-wing Republicans who followed Heritage into battle got stabbed in the back almost immediately.

“Everybody understands that we’ll not be able to repeal [Obamacare] until 2017,” Needham said during a Fox News appearance on Wednesday. Apparently “everybody” didn’t include dozens of House Republicans, or Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint. Just as with the farm bill, Heritage led Republicans further and further to the right — then turned on them as soon as it became convenient.

There’s no reason to believe that Heritage will change its pattern any time soon — as long as there is money to be raised from the far right, Heritage has no incentive to stop pressuring Republican politicians to take more extreme positions. Quite simply, that is their business model. It also seems very unlikely that Speaker Boehner will change his pattern of allowing the far right to pressure him into supporting Tea Party-backed plans in exchange for letting him keep the Speaker’s gavel.

Perhaps the business community — which is well represented on the Heritage Foundation’s board of trustees — will attempt to moderate the group’s political activities, in an effort to counteract their disastrous economic effects. Or perhaps Republican voters will finally run out of patience for Heritage’s preferred brand of governing by self-created crisis.

If not, the Republican Party is in trouble, because the evidence is clear: Heritage simply does not have its best interests at heart.

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, October 18, 2013

October 19, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Heritage Foundation, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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