The "Values Action Team" and Bush's Veto Threat
As has often been the case over the last few months, I set out to write about one thing, and, in the process of gathering what I need for that, come across something more important. This happened again on Friday, when I saw that the guest on David Barton's WallBuilders LIVE!
radio show was Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA). One of the projects I'm currently working on is a study of the use of Christian nationalist history revisionism in debates in Congress over the past decade, and the appearance of Pitts on Barton's radio show initially made me think I would write something about the preliminary results of my study, in which Pitts's name frequently comes up. After listening to Friday's program, however, I changed my mind. There are reasons far bigger than the promotion of revisionist history that led Barton's co-host Rick Green to introduce Pitts as "probably our favorite congressman,"
including his role in getting George Bush to send a little noticed "veto-threat" letter to the Democrats.
Congressman Pitts heads the Values Action Team (VAT), which was described as follows in a 2001 document written by Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ):
The Values Action Team was an offshoot of the Values Summit held in 1998. As a result of this summit, Majority Whip Tom DeLay identified the lack of coordination between the outside pro-life/pro-family coalitions and similar-minded Members of Congress. In turn, the Whip tapped then-freshman Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) to spearhead this new inside/outside coalition, which would come to be known as the Values Action Team (VAT).
The goal of this group was to unite conservative Members with pro-family coalitions by establishing legislative goals, identifying key tasks for Members and coalitions to perform, and executing action items that would lead to conservative victories.
From the same document:
Requirements for VAT Members:
- Strongly pro-life.
- Must assign one legislative staff member to attend weekly strategy luncheons.
- Be willing to follow-through with action items such as lobbying Members, signing letters, sending dear colleagues, etc.
- Be willing to address the Thursday VAT coalition meeting at least one time each year.
A VAT report is given by Chairman Pitts each week Congress is in session at the Republican Study Committee (RSC) meeting. As most VAT members also attend the weekly RSC meetings, it was determined that this was the more efficient way for Members to strategize on VAT issues rather than adding another meeting to their schedules. This has proven to be an effective way to better engage Members on pro-life/pro-family issues.
VAT Members' staffs meet weekly for a strategy lunch courtesy of the Family Research Council. The goal of these meetings is to strategize, educate, and assign action items for VAT Members and staff to complete.
The VAT outside coalition group has had a large attendance over the past three years. Weekly meetings, held on Thursdays when Congress is in session, now draw over 30 pro-family outside groups. These meetings include briefings from Leaders and prime sponsors of House and Senate bills, strategizing, assigning action items, and distribution of resource materials.
An action taken earlier this month by George Bush -- which is being claimed by the VAT and its coalition of pro-life groups as a major victory and demonstration of their influence -- has to be one of the most under-reported stories in recent news about the religious right.
On May 3, after being guaranteed that there would be enough Republican votes in the House to sustain a veto of any appropriations bill that removed any of the pro-life riders that have been regularly attached to these bills over the past decade, Bush sent the following "veto-threat" letter to both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi:
Dear Mr. Leader / Madam Speaker:
I am concerned that this year the Congress may consider legislation that could substantially change Federal policies and laws on abortion, and allow taxpayer dollars to be used for the destruction of human life. I am writing to make sure that there is no misunderstanding of my views on these important issues.
Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and matchless value. Every child should be welcomed into life and protected in law. The advancement of science and medicine need not conflict with the ethical imperative to cherish and protect every life. In fact, advances in science have made it possible to see life developing at earlier stages and underscore Americans' obligation to protect helpless and innocent life from destruction, whether it is in the womb or elsewhere. These issues are deeply emotional and are made even more complicated when the American taxpayer is asked to fund efforts that end human life.
As you know, current law prohibits Federal funding for abortion, both domestically and internationally, except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is endangered. Recent legislative practice has ensured that taxpayer funds do not underwrite organizations that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning. Current U.S. law protects human embryos. The standing pattern is that appropriate conscience protections must be in place for health care entities, and that taxpayer dollars may not be used in coercive or involuntary family planning programs.
I urge that these and other existing, important protections be respected and continued. I believe it is the most basic duty of Government to guard the innocent. With that in mind, I will veto any legislation that weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage.
To hear Congressman Pitts's comments, and how victories such as this are being presented to audiences like Barton's, you can find the Friday, May 18 WallBuilders LIVE! broadcast at http://www.wallbuilderslive.com/archives.asp.