In advance of the House Republican conference policy retreat this week — where members will breathe life into Speaker Paul Ryan’s “bold conservative agenda” — Heritage Action is seeking to make its priorities known.
On Tuesday, Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, will deliver a “Congressional Boarding Pass” to lawmakers, a document modeled off of an airplane boarding pass that highlights the organization’s must-have policies in the speaker’s forthcoming agenda.
The group’s top item? Welfare reform.
For Heritage, the essential planks of a conservative vision of welfare reform, as outlined in the document, are a “strong work requirement” and the “restor[ation]” of “federalism.” It’s a callback to the welfare-reform bill shuttled into law by Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996, which drew conservative acclaim for its institution of “workfare” measures and for giving states the increased ability to determine their own levels of spending on the program.
“Any welfare reform proposal should include strong work requirements,” the document reads. “Last year in Maine, work requirements for childless, able-bodied adults without dependents caused an 80-percent reduction in that group’s food stamp use.”
#share#In a bid for decentralization, the document also asserts that “Congress should aim to restore federalism in welfare policy . . . through real spending reduction and a nominal cap, allowing states to make decisions about how much revenue should be devoted to their welfare programs.”
Such measures are likely to catch fire in the conference’s discussions this week: in the tradition of his mentor, the late New York representative Jack Kemp, the speaker has long been passionate about welfare reform, and, on the heels of his poverty summit in South Carolina on Saturday, has made clear that his agenda will prioritize it for 2016.
“We wanted to get conservative benchmarks out there before these policy discussions, because the conference seems excited about making welfare reform a reality,” says Dan Holler, Heritage Action’s vice president of communications and government relations.
#related#“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this before the policy retreat,” Holler adds. “Our big push last year to [John] Boehner was that the House needed to give people a reason to be excited about conservative policy. He had no desire to do that. But with Ryan, that passion is there.”
Heritage has been vocal about its optimism for a Ryan speakership, and the Congressional Boarding Pass reveals as much. The document’s introduction begins with the Wisconsin lawmaker’s own words upon being elected speaker in October: “No more favors for the few,” Ryan told his conference. “Opportunity for all — that is our motto.”
Members will have the opportunity to consider Heritage Action’s proposals from Wednesday through Friday in Baltimore. Along with leadership-led policy discussions, they will hear from figures such as Larry Kudlow, George Will, and National Review’s own Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg.
— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.