For decades, the group was seen as a parasitic anomaly—a fringe organization of hopeless ideologues surviving off the perception of undue moderation among Republican leadership. Several previous speakers had bullied or ignored it, and one even dissolved the RSC in a quest to squelch internal dissent. For decades, the committee’s membership rolls were thin, and internal GOP debates didn’t matter much anyway, because the party was in the minority.
But the 2010 midterms—thanks to an influx of ideologically charged lawmakers converging with an increasingly conservative GOP—changed everything. More than 60 of 85 GOP freshmen joined the Republican Study Committee, giving the group a record 164 members. The committee known as “the conservative conscience of the House” was now, for the first time in history, a majority of the House majority.
As a result, its influence grew geometrically, and, today, no single subgroup drives the legislative agenda like the RSC. When its members rally against a bill, it usually fails; when they join to push a proposal, it almost always succeeds. Indeed, since 2010, the RSC’s embrace or rejection of any legislative effort has become the surest indicator of whether it will pass the chamber. With 171 members today, the Republican Study Committee is the “largest caucus in all of Congress,” as [RSC chair Steven ] Scalise [R-LA] puts it. If Boehner and his conductors make the trains run, RSC members are the soot-soaked boilermen shoveling coal into the furnace.The article notes that Gingrich moved to abolish the Legislative Service Organizations because he saw the RSC as a rival power center. Yours truly made the same point in a 1996 paper.