April 12, 2010 | Commentary on Political Thought
The Heritage Foundation has been called "the beast" of all think tanks. Last week our beast added new fangs with the creation of a new advocacy organization. This institution—Heritage Action for America—will be able to spend money to push legislation we think the country needs without the obstacles faced by a nonprofit like the Heritage Foundation.
Heritage Action, in other words, is poised to influence public policy debates in a way that no other institution in this country can.
What do we mean by influence? Here's an example: During the debates prior to the passage of the health-care bill, the Congressional Budget Office claimed the two new entitlement programs created by President Obama's legislation would lower the federal deficit. The claim was ridiculous. As Heritage Foundation visiting fellow James Capretta wrote at the time, "even a modest amount of scrutiny reveals these supposed [cost] offsets are nothing more than gimmicks and implausible assumptions."
Yet Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the floor of the House of Representatives "we all know that the present health-care system . . . in our country is unsustainable. We simply cannot afford it. . . . The best action that we can take on behalf of America's family budgets and on behalf of the federal budget is to pass health-care reform."
Her statement wasn't true. But it was a convenient untruth, since it gave her cover to pressure, cajole and compel members of Congress to vote with her and against our national interest. All of the truth in the world could not prevent Washington's Democrats from forcing their vision of socialized medicine down our throats, though conservatives in both parties came very close to stopping that bill.
Now imagine the truth of the Heritage Foundation's message—a message backed by extensive analysis and decades of experience—as the core of an effort to advocate for public policy recommendations. Our ideas all start with the same fundamental goal: building an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish.
Heritage Action will not get involved in electoral politics, but it will use all the tools available in the American political system to ensure that congressmen face the same pressure to do the right thing as they face to do the politically expedient thing.
Heritage Action will have the ability to create this pressure. There are 110 congressional districts in America with over 1,500 Heritage supporters apiece. Two-thirds of congressional districts in this country have over 1,000 Heritage members each. Now they will have an advocacy organization that can press Congress on their behalf.
Heritage Action for America will guarantee that when a wavering congressman thinks of voting for higher taxes, increased regulation, or a weaker national defense, television ads in his home district will remind him that a vote for bigger government is a vote for less freedom. When at his district office, well-informed constituents will visit him to press the case as to why a specific bill deserves to die or pass. They'll remind him of his electoral promises (which tend to be almost universally conservative, even among the most "progressive" politicians) and let him know that he must vote the right way or start looking for a new line of work.
Let no one be fooled by the magnitude of the challenge before us. The power of the liberal establishment, the temptations of incumbency, and the allure of placing party above principle make it difficult to convince many members of Congress to do the right thing. But we can prevail by making them feel the heat from more than 630,000 members of the Heritage Foundation—and millions of others around the country who believe in our principles and share our vision of America's future.
As Ronald Reagan said, "If you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat." The Heritage Foundation will continue to shed light with its fact-based research. Action for America will provide the political heat.
Mr. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Needham is CEO of Heritage Action for America.
First appeared in The Wall Street Journal