Ex-official: Heritage has betrayed Reagan

Exclusive: The Heritage Foundation's former "commissar of ideology" slams the think tank's immigration report

Topics: Heritage Foundation, Think Tank, Immigration, Immigration Reform, Ronald Reagan, Burton Pines,

Ex-official: Heritage has betrayed ReaganRonald Reagan (Credit: AP/Doug Mills)

During the Reagan Revolution, the Heritage Foundation was seen as the soul of the free market conservative revival. As senior vice president for research at the think tank from 1981 through 1992, Burton Pines was in charge of its intellectual output — “If Heritage were General Motors, I ran the factory,” he says — but as Heritage comes under fire this week for a controversial immigration report, Pines says the storied organization has lost its way.

“It’s a new Heritage and it’s one that’s not standing by the principles of Ronald Reagan,” he told Salon Thursday. “I’m puzzled why they came out with this study and I’m more puzzled why they seem to be against immigration.”

The foundation’s new report, which estimates that immigration reform will cost taxpayers $6 trillion, has touched off a civil war on the right.

“If Jack Kemp were alive today there’s no question where he would stand, and he probably wouldn’t even be afraid to use the word ‘amnesty,’” Pines said of the late congressman who helped developed supply-side economics and mentored Paul Ryan.

Of particular concern to Pines is the fact that the new immigration study doesn’t use “dynamic scoring,” an accounting principle the foundation has long championed that takes into account projected economic growth. Not using the method “really has betrayed everything we viewed economically,” he said. “Jack Kemp would be throwing darts right now at Heritage for not using dynamic calculations.”

Marco Rubio agreed, telling reporters Tuesday, “Heritage, I think, is the king of dynamic scoring, and in many respects we’ve advocated for dynamic scoring here because of the positions that they’ve taken.”

Pines, who said people used to call him the “commissar of ideology,” is no shrinking violet when it comes to the foundation’s political mission. “We’re not here to be some kind of Ph.D. committee giving equal time. Our role is to provide conservative public-policy makers with arguments to bolster our side,” he famously once said.

While he said he hasn’t followed Heritage’s work too closely since he was pushed out in the early 1990s, Pines lamented, “From what I see, and the stands they take on social issues, this is light-years away from Ronald Reagan.

“The Heritage Foundation, by and large, was a product of the Reagan Revolution and it still should be a lodestone of those who believe in economic growth and free enterprise, and what gave our country its competitive advantage is in fact its immigration policy,” he added.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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