Quieter RSC Still Conservative, Still Effective, Chairman Says
When Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores wants to discuss accomplishments, he brings handwritten notecards — with achievements and metrics broken down into sections and subsections.
Just don’t ask him to turn over his talking points. “You might judge me if I misspelled something,” the Texas Republican says. Halfway through his first year as chairman of the conservative caucus, the former oil company CEO is tackling issues of government the way he would any other issue: like a CEO.
He uses CEO jargon. (The first step in achieving goals is to “paint the targets on the wall.”) He delegates. (He’s set up RSC task forces and charged individual members with individual assignments.) He even dresses like a CEO. (Flores is one of the rare politicians to don a Rolex.)
The biggest difference between running a 171-member caucus and a multimillion-dollar company, Flores says, is he doesn’t control compensation.
While most of the news about conservative caucuses this Congress has focused on the House Freedom Caucus, Flores maintains, as he has from day one, that the HFC and the RSC are “complementary.” Roughly 90 percent of the 42-member HFC is in the RSC, he notes, pointing out the groups have often joined forces.
Most notably, in March, the HFC and RSC worked together to oppose a D.C. law on reproductive rights, and the HFC got behind the RSC’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal, which Flores called “one of the most conservative ones that we’ve ever advanced.”
“The Freedom Caucus took a look at that and said, ‘Gosh we don’t think there’s anything more we can do with that,’” Flores says.
He acknowledges the two organizations have differing styles and reputations, but he insists the RSC has pushed the conference to the right a little more quietly, but no less effectively. Even if his organization’s budget won’t be enacted anytime soon, Flores points out that past RSC blueprints have affected future Republican budgets — dynamic scoring and the idea of balancing in 10 years started in the RSC — and those budget proposals, which are little more than score-able news releases, can affect real policies.
Flores is also obsessed with slipping RSC policy riders into spending measures. “We got over 200 of those into appropriations bills,” Flores says, noting he’s tasked Georgia Republican Tom Graves with tucking as many RSC policies into the base text of appropriations bills as possible.
One of those “conservative fingerprints” was a provision in the Financial Services bill to block money for D.C.’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act.
The RSC has drawn a line in the sand on the RHNDA. Flores even got a vote, despite GOP leadership’s wishes, on a disapproval resolution for the prospective D.C. law that would prevent employers from refusing to hire workers based on abortion views.
“Let me just say that they didn’t want to have that vote,” Flores says. “And look: I’m willing to go and pull down a rule, but I want to save the nuclear option for something that’s really, really, really important.”
Instead of taking down a rule for RHNDA, Flores came up with procedural tactics to make life “interesting” for Republican leaders. “Well, not interesting,” Flores says. “It was interesting for us, tough for them.”
Flores had a face-to-face with Speaker John A. Boehner and threatened a so-called conga line — a maneuver where members hijack the floor by speaking one after the other. And while that may not sound so disruptive, “it would have really fouled up the floor schedule that week,” Flores says.
The threat was effective. Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed to a vote on the disapproval resolution, as they agreed to a vote in January on yet another Obamacare repeal. It may have just checked a ceremonial box — one that leadership might actually be tired of checking — but that vote, Flores says, was important to many RSC members.
The RSC also got the first vote on a repeal of the estate tax (aka the death tax, for the more Frank Luntz-inclined) in 10 years.
Even if these votes aren’t going anywhere — and they decidedly are not — Flores believes they’re important to the voters who elect conservatives. And he thinks these votes, which put an emphasis on conservative rhetoric rather than accomplishments, actually do move the conference to the right, albeit slowly.
That’s why he likes the RSC budget and the initiative to slip conservative policy riders into spending bills, “to clip the wings of the out-of-control regulatory agencies in this town.”
Flores knows it’s unlikely any single appropriations bill will be signed into law. But he’s betting much of the text passed out of committee can be worked into a fiscal year-end spending deal.
Plus, the RSC will be pushing for budget reconciliation on Obamacare and for ending the Export-Import Bank.
Flores had a change of heart on Ex-Im, which he’s supported in the past — a reason some conservatives questioned whether Flores could run the RSC. (Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, accused leadership last November of “twisting arms” to get Flores elected.)
Some thought Flores was too nice to be a conservative flamethrower. (During our interview in his Longworth office, Flores at one point kicked his feet up on his coffee table, then quickly removed them. “That’s rude,” he said.)
But Flores does seem to have moved a bit to the right — even if he won’t admit it. He says his reversal on Ex-Im is the credit agency’s fault. “I call it the Enron of federal agencies,” Flores says. “You know, there are a lot of Enrons in the federal government, but it is at the pinnacle of the Enrons.”
He says with all the news of corruption at the bank, “they basically signed their own death warrant.”
On top of the policy pushes at the RSC, Flores also notes a number of “blocking and tackling” updates at the organization. RSC has better email distribution lists and is putting out more millennial-focused graphics on social media. “It’s really been a big value-adder for the staffs of the members,” he says, noting the RSC is also taking over former Sen. Tom Coburn’s annual government “Wastebook.”
It’s in those updates that Flores really shows his business acumen, selling sometimes skeptical conservatives on the value of occasionally putting the group’s interests first.
“Each of us is a little CEO,” Flores notes. “Yet we’re all servants to our constituents.”
The key, he says, is enabling members to go after the issues they and their constituents most care about while uniting members on issues when there’s common ground.
It’s a pleasant theory of government and representation, one with which hardly anyone would disagree. But that’s sort of what Flores is going for.