The most important task for the House GOP is that it not lose its fragile credibility with the Republican regulars, conservative activists and Tea Party volunteers who powered their victory in November.
The single most important issue in that election was federal spending, followed by the repeal of Obamacare.
The most important non-specific issue was the attitude of Congress towards voters –the new majority has to be transparent, available and forthright.
Thus if the budget debate now begun yields a GOP that in the mind of its supporters broke its specific “Pledge To America” on spending and did so under the cover of weasel words and tortured arguments while hiding from direct sustained questions from critics of news reports of the various “deals” underway, it will have taken the new House leadership four weeks to forfeit the trust it took four years to recover. In the process the reputations of the 87 freshmen will all have been tarnished as their home town supporters conclude that the freshmen were led around by their noses by wily insiders with lobbyist pals and special interest addictions.
Everytime you hear a Member of the House cite the president’s FY 11 budget proposal, you know the GOP is blowing it. The president’s FY ’11 budget proposal had nothing to do with the Pledge and nothing to do with cutting spending. The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery is alone among the MSMers who seem to have figured out the key measurement of fealty to their word comes from the 2008 budget, writing that “[i]n their “Pledge to America,” Boehner and other GOP leaders vowed to immediately restore federal spending to 2008 levels.”
The GOP –in campaign mode– promised “prestimulus, pre-bailout” spending levels as the explicit benchmark in the Pledge against which to measure its success, which as Montgomery rightly concluded means the FY 2008 budget:
With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to prestimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone
The GOP promised to return to FY 2008 spending levels, with the possibility of some exceptions in the areas of seniors, defense and national security.
When you don’t hear GOP leaders talking about the FY ’08 budget numbers, again you know that dissembling has overtaken the caucus.
An elected official cannot successfully debate a promise made, and the avoidance of extended questions from supporters is a standing indictment of the leadership’s confidence in the defensibility of their actions. When you begin to hear John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy making daily appearances on the programs of Bennett, Ingraham, Prager, Hannity, Medved, Levin and my show –taking all questions from the host and from the audience– you will know that they have hit lived up to their promises and are ready to explain that in as great a detail and for as long as it takes.
In a pointed conversation with House Rules Chairman David Dreier yesterday, transcript below, I asked the congressman to press the leadership to get to the Phoenix convention of the Tea Party Patriots on February 25-27 and defend in a townhall setting whatever spending deal emerges next week. It has got to be a deal that meets the Pledge, and I suspect it has to be one that signals in its specifics as well as its overall totals budegt seriousness by wiping out funding for NPR, CPB, and much of the EPA as well as restraining HHS’s Obamacare regulation factory.
But mostly it has to get the spending levels –agency-by-agency– down to FY 2008 levels, and lower in the cases of places like NPR.
Here’s yesterday’s exchange with David Dreier:
HH: As you know, I don’t think I’ve ever been this angry with the House Republican leadership. Joined now by a member of that leadership, my friend, Congressman David Dreier. David Dreier…
DD: Oh, you’ve been this angry.
HH: Oh, I have never been this mad.
DD: It pales in comparison.
HH: Now I want to say two things, then I want to give you the floor. Things number one, everybody can read. We know what the Pledge said. It didn’t say $100 billion cut from FY ’11. It said back to 2008, pre-bailout spending levels. And number two, the Speaker, the Leader and the Whip cannot hide from talk radio audiences. They need to be out there engaging them and talking to the Tea Party. The floor is yours.
DD: Well, let me just tell you, let me just tell you, we are working. We have been buried, trying to make sure that we can find this $100 billion dollars in cuts, and we have just achieved that. We are going to exceed the $100 billion dollars in cuts, and we are already preparing to deal with the mandatory spending, with the direction to the authorizing committees to go well beyond that. And so you should know that nobody is hiding. I mean, and I’m here right now talking to you. And I will tell you, I’ve just been in leadership meetings, and we have got our nose to the grindstone doing the right thing, trying to put together a coalition, trying to put together a coalition of support that will do exactly what the American people and Hugh Hewitt, and Hugh Hewitt’s audience sent us to do. And so we have, we are taking a first and very bold step. And it’s going to be $100 billion dollars.
HH: Congressman, it’s not a $100 billion dollars. Here’s what the Pledge says on Page 6 and 21. With common sense exceptions for seniors, veterans and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion. It’s not that we will cut $100 billion from the President’s fiscal ’11 budget. It’s that we’re going back to 2008. And when Hal Rogers walks out and says we’re going to cut $100 billion from fiscal year ’11, my head pops, so does the audience, because they know it’s simply, it’s a ruse.
DD: Well, the fact of the matter is, if you look at the numbers that we have right now, I mean, there was no mention of exactly what that level was going to be. All we’re saying is we’re going to cut…and let me say this, Hugh. We are going to be well beyond that. Nobody said that in the first four weeks that we were going to be cutting $100 billion dollars. What was going to happen is we have an opportunity to put on the House floor rescission bills every single week as we move forward. And as I said, we want to tackle mandatory spending. We are running, we are pushing very, very hard, and I will tell you, you know, there are lots of forces that have come into play here. And I believe that we will be well beyond it. I believe that we’ll be well below the ’08 levels as we complete this process.
HH: Well you see, that is all they have to come out and say. If they came out and said, not this…
DD: And I’m…okay, okay, Hugh, I’ve just said it. I’ve just said it.
HH: Will Hal Rogers say it?
DD: I’m not going to tell you, I’m not going to tell you that by a week from today we’re going to be below the ’08 levels. But what I’m telling you is that as we tackle mandatory spending, and look at those authorizers, who have so much opportunity…I mean, Sam Johnson just made a very strong statement about the need to bring about cuts within the Pentagon. We can do that without in any way undermining troops or veterans or readiness, or equipment capability at all. These are the kinds of things that we’ve just been in the majority for four weeks. And so we are going to focus on an oversight effort. We have just begun, we’re in the midst of debate right now on our resolution that calls for the ten committees to tackle the issue of regulatory relief. If we can tackle these regulations with a kind of enthusiasm that we’re about to take it on, we’re going to see humongous cuts. And so the sense that everything has to be done yesterday is not what the legislative process is all about.
HH: That’s not, now Congressman, that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that you have an appropriations, the continuing resolution, which will set spending for the rest of the year.
DD: But we can have rescissions…
HH: The chairman of appropriations came out today…
DD: …we can have rescission bills every week.
HH: What’s that?
DD: We can cut that. We can cut it lower than that.
HH: No, but that’s not the budget. Congressman, that won’t fly.
DD: We don’t have a budget.
HH: Well, you have a C.R. The C.R. should cut spending down to 2008 levels, and that’s what people believe. I mean, can they ever trust a pledge from the Republicans again if you guys are going to parse it?
DD: Let me tell you, we have to put together the votes to make sure that this thing happens. And you know what? This is the beginning of a debate. And you know what? We’re going to have an open amendment process. And there are going to be three full days of debate. You need to follow the debate next week. You need to follow the debate next week. We’re going to be considering this in the Rules Committee on Monday, and then we’ll be on the floor beginning Tuesday. So we’ll have debate Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week on this thing.
HH: All right, Congressman, which part of the Pledge is up for debate?
DD: There’s no part of the Pledge that’s up for debate. What do you mean? Which part of the Pledge…
HH: Because if I have to follow the debate, which Republicans are refusing to live up to the Pledge, because those are the names that ought to be taken, and those are the people who ought not to be chairing committees.
DD: Okay, here’s what I would say to you. Follow the debate next week, because I can’t answer that question, because we haven’t begun the debate process. The debate process begins on the House floor beginning on Tuesday. We’re going to be here in the Rules Committee, and we’ll have testimony here, and it’s on television. You can get it now that we’ve got cameras in the Rules Committee. You’ll be able to get that on Monday, and then we’ll begin to proceed with the rule debate on Tuesday, and have a full debate, going into the night Tuesday and Wednesday. And then we’ll be voting up until Thursday evening.
HH: Now tell me the second thing. Where is the Speaker, the Leader, and the Whip in terms of talking on talk radio? When are they going to start showing up and engage the public? You do every week, Congressman. I have no problem with you. I’m giving you hard questions.
DD: No, no. But listen, I mean, listen, I’m a big boy. I’m happy to take your hard time. We’re all spread around. And I’ve got to tell you that they have done pressers. I mean, John Boehner was on Fox News Sunday last week with Chris Wallace, and so I mean, I’m telling you that we’re out of campaign mode. We’re in governing mode right now, and I will encourage him to come on and talk with you. If you want to talk to John Boehner, I’ll encourage him to come on. But you know, there are only so…
HH: I think they ought to go to the Tea Party Patriot convention in Phoenix. I’m not going to be there. I think they ought to get on there, and go there, and talk to the activists who gave them the majority and defend whatever comes off the floor. Will you recommend that to him?
DD: Well, I mean, listen. We are the Tea Party. We’re for cutting spending and cutting taxes.
HH: No, Congressman. You’re not.
DD: We are the Tea Party.
HH: No, no. You’re not.
DD: Yes, we are.
HH: You’re the Beltway guys.
DD: Are we cutting spending?
DD: We’re not cutting spending?
HH: You haven’t cut spending yet.
DD: Yeah, well wait until a week from today.
HH: But the Tea Party is… www.teapartypatriots.org, talk to Mark Meckler. Don’t believe me. He came on here Monday.
DD: I had dinner with Mark last week.
HH: And he came on Monday, and his head is popping because of what’s going on back there.
DD: I had dinner with Mark last week.
HH: Do you think that it would be good if the Speaker or the Leader or the Whip went to Phoenix and engaged them?
DD: Sure. I think that going anyplace, I think we need to go all over, and we need to talk about this. So sure, the answer is yes.
HH: Last question, did Hal Rogers really say yesterday that deeper cuts would mean you’d have to lay off federal employees?
DD: Well, did he say…there are people who are putting all kinds of concerns out there as to what is going to happen. And there are people who have obviously said that there is going to be some pain felt with this. Yes, I mean, people have said that. And you know what? It depends upon how the cuts are handled. And I believe that we can cut it. I think we do need to lay off federal employees. I think we need to have furloughs. So it needs to be done.
HH: That is music to our ears, more of the same, and I hope you guys get to pre-bailout 2008 spending levels.
DD: Follow us next week, Hugh.
HH: Oh, very closely, Congressman. Come back early and often.
End of interview.