Stephen Moore (Credit: Willis Bretz)

Stephen Moore (Credit: Willis Bretz)

Stephen Moore, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and founder of the Club for Growth, is returning to The Heritage Foundation as chief economist.

In an exclusive interview with The Foundry, Moore said he chose Heritage because he’s philosophically aligned with the think tank’s policy agenda and wants to have a real impact on policy debates.

“I really wanted to be on the front line of the policy debate and I thought Heritage would be the perfect place for that,” Moore told The Foundry. “I honestly believe that Heritage is the most influential of the think tanks in Washington. I don’t think there’s really any question about that.”

As Heritage’s chief economist, Moore said he will concentrate on advancing policies that increase the rate of economic growth in order to help the United States retain its position as the global economic superpower. He will also work on budget, fiscal, and monetary policy. In addition to his focus on federal issues, he plans to showcase states that are getting fiscal issues right.

Moore said states play an important role because President Obama is unlikely to address any of the long-term fiscal challenges in the remainder of his term.

We have a president who is not interested in compromise. He wants to advance a leftist, big-government agenda. That’s frustrating because he’s not like Bill Clinton. We could actually work with Bill Clinton to get things like welfare reform done, which was a big victory for Heritage and the conservative movement. I don’t see Barack Obama moving to the center in any way.

Next week during his State of the Union address, Obama is expected to once again talk about inequality. Americans should prepare for more of Obama’s typical redistributionist rhetoric, said Moore, who believes that approach won’t grow the economy.

“One of the projects I’m going to be working on is how Obama has discredited liberal ideas more than anyone,” Moore said. “Everything he’s done has been such a massive failure — from the stimulus to health-care reform to bailouts to green energy.”

Heritage Homecoming

Moore, 53, previously worked at Heritage from 1983 to 1987 as the Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Budgetary Affairs.

“I was here when Heritage literally moved into this building,” Moore said of the current Capitol Hill location on Massachusetts Avenue. “Everyone thought there’s no way Heritage is going to fill up this big building.”

The 1980s were a critical period in Heritage’s history and Moore said that made his job — focusing primarily on the federal budget — exciting.

“Heritage was Ronald Reagan’s think tank,” he said. “We had a president who was adopting a lot of our policies. And if not adopting them, paying attention to them.”

Today, Moore joins a think tank that’s grown in many ways. With hundreds of thousands of supporters and a team of 275 employees, Heritage is much larger than during Moore’s previous stint. However, he said the same concept that made Heritage successful in the early years — timely and high-quality policy research — is just as important today.

“Everything is so much faster and in real time now,” Moore said. “You have to be nimble and responsive to what’s going on day to day. Heritage pioneered that. And while we need to be an instant response team, we also need to work on big broad policy initiatives.”

Heritage Action for America is another change — a sister organization that was created in 2010 to advance conservative policy ideas in Congress. Last year, Moore was critical of the tactics to defund Obamacare — a campaign spearheaded by Heritage Action — but he said the activist group is clearly a valuable addition.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come here is because of the presence of Heritage Action, which can help put these policies over the goal line,” he said.

Last year in a Wall Street Journal column, Moore took issue with Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint’s characterization of the late Milton Friedman’s view of immigration. Moore said he discussed the issue with DeMint recently.

Now, with immigration reform likely to be debated in Congress again this year, Moore said he welcomed the opportunity to work on the issue at Heritage.

Jim DeMint and I may not agree on everything about immigration, but what Jim wants me and others to do is develop a pro-growth immigration policy for the country. I don’t want Heritage to be viewed as anti-immigration. We all know immigration is vitally important to our economy. Our goal will be to develop an immigration policy that’s in the best interest of America, our economy, and allows the United States to get the best and brightest people to come here.

Career at a Glance

Moore said his career was shaped by three people who had a profound influence on his life: Julian Simon, a Cato Institute scholar until his death; Ed Feulner, founder of Heritage, and Art Laffer, the economist best known for the Laffer curve.

“What makes them so great is they were willing to take on the conventional wisdom. They were subject to a lot of criticism for doing that,” Moore said. “Those are the real change-makers. It takes a lot of courage to do that.”

Moore’s creation of the Club for Growth in 1998 fits that same model. He told The Foundry it was the defining moment of his career. The organization, which he left in 2004, helps elect conservative members of Congress, including DeMint when he ran for Senate.

“Helping elect Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, John Thune, Jeff Flake, Steve King — there was some really great people who are here because of what the Club did,” Moore said.

After leaving the Club for Growth, Moore founded the Free Enterprise Fund before taking the job at the Wall Street Journal. In his role as the senior economics writer for the newspaper’s editorial board, Moore covered Washington policy debates and state issues. He said the job gave him a perspective that he thinks will help in his new role at Heritage.

“Because I’ve been a consumer of think tank material and policy research, I think I have a pretty good sense of what reporters want and how to get it to them in the way they want it,” Moore said. “Being timely — and not just offering opinion but giving them the facts and data is really critical.”