A realistic budget from a realistic steering committee
By Paul M. Weyrich
The year was 1973. Republicans had ushered in a large class of some 42 new Members in the House of Representatives due to gains in the 1972 elections. They were nowhere near controlling the House but they suddenly had become more relevant. Gerald R. Ford, Jr. (R-MI) was Minority Leader. He was a nice fellow but conservatives among House Republicans regarded him as too willing to compromise with liberals in both parties.
Edwin J. Feulner, Jr. was Chief of Staff to Representative Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.). I was on the staff of Senator Carl T. Curtis (R-NE). I had discussed with Feulner and Crane the operations of the Democratic Study Group (DSG), the caucus of Democratic liberals which continually pulled their party to the left. I mentioned to Ed and Phil that Representative Floyd D. Spence (R-SC), who first was elected in 1970, had tried unsuccessfully to form a counterpart to the DSG.
Feulner and Crane suggested that we needed a more senior Member who could attract Members to a meeting. They suggested we confer with Representative Edward J. Derwinski (R-Ill), first elected in 1958 but who maintained his conservative principles.
We met with Derwinski, who agreed to attempt to persuade Members to form a counterpart to the DSG. Derwinski asked how the DSG funded its considerable staff. We pointed out that each Member contributed a portion of his own staff allowance. The money was pooled, the DSG's having had what was called "shared staff."
Derwinski, ever the practical fellow, asked what our relations were with the Members just elected. We said we knew a number of them. Trent Lott (R-MS), for example, had been part of a Senate/House staff group which met each month beginning in the 1960s as I had. I had also been part of that group. Lott had been a Democrat working for a Democratic Chairman, William M. Colmer. In early 1972 he had switched parties and had been elected as a conservative Republican, a harbinger of the future in the South. John B. Conlan (R-AZ) I had met through evangelical religious groups, Robert P. Hanrahan (R-IL) was introduced to me by Illinois conservatives and so on.
Derwinski instructed us to sell the concept of shared staff to each new Member and to get them to agree to volunteer a portion of their staff allowance for the good of the cause. Derwinski chaired the organizational meeting, which was again held in the office of Floyd Spence. There was an overflow crowd. Not only did many freshmen show up but some older Members, such as John H. Rousselot and Claire W. Burgener (R-CA), as well. The meeting could not have been more productive.
We walked away with a large membership for what we termed the House GOP Steering Committee and we had sufficient money pledged to hire six people. The House leadership soon demanded that we change the name to the Republican Study Committee (RSC). It has been operating ever since.
I mention that background because one of the first assignments which Feulner, then Acting Staff Director, made was to have the RSC come up with an alternative budget. We had a staff person who was an expert on budgets, facts and figures. He produced a very credible piece of work.
Over the years the RSC has produced alternative budgets. They were often offered as substitute motions for the leadership budget as it was debated on the House floor. The high water mark for this substitute budget was 110 votes a few years ago.
Now, more than three decades following that first RSC alternative budget, the Study Committee has come up with its most brilliant and promising piece of work.
When Republicans first took control of the House after 40 years of Democrats in charge, Rep. John R. Kasich (R-OH) was Budget Committee Chairman. He produced a budget which passed the House. Ultimately, after compromise with the Senate, Kasich's excellent work was watered down. Still and all, it was the best budget the House has ever voted on.
Today there is all this talk about how Republicans have lost their way since 1995 and that we must get back to the principles which first caused the voters to make the change they did in the 1994 elections.
So this time, the RSC took the Kasich budget, which the House already had voted on, and adapted it to the needs of 2006. The result is a very realistic budget, but one which asks the question, "What has changed in the past dozen years?" If Republicans really are concerned about losing their compass, if they need to be re-directed, if they are serious about bringing Federal spending under control, this is the budget which should be passed by the entire House of Representatives.
The budget would eliminate, not merely halve, the deficit by 2011. It would leave intact the Bush Administration pro-growth tax policy, one of the few achievements of which this Administration justly can be proud.
The RSC budget would achieve real reductions in discretionary spending, while increasing defense spending to the level the President has requested, especially in the out years. This budget also would achieve what the American taxpayer has sought as long as I can remember to reduce significantly foreign aid. As with the Kasich budget, the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Education are so restructured that the case could be made that under this budget those agencies would be, for practical purposes, abolished.
A total of 150 government programs would be eliminated altogether, including significant programs, ranging from subsidies for certain Indian tribes to the Legal Services Corporation.
In fact, this budget contains a number of budget reforms, including a Constitutional Line Item veto. The proposed net deficit reduction in this budget is $392 billion. Next time your Congressman or Senator whines that Congress has cut everything it can cut, show him or her this budget. The RSC has found nearly $400 billion in plausible cuts. The RSC budget does not touch Social Security, so if enacted it would not hurt the elderly. The budget would block-grant Medicaid. That way the States, with almost no strings attached, would be able to allocate this money as they saw fit, as should have been done decades ago. The budget would cap Medicare spending and also allow greater flexibility in the spending of Medicare funds.
Remember the Bridge to Nowhere, that multi-million dollar project to build a bridge to a remote area of Alaska in which only 50 people live. This budget would rescind that and all other earmarks in the highway bill.
The budget would permit drilling in ANWR, just as the Kasich budget bill did a dozen years ago. Liberal favorites, such as Title X Family Planning and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, would be eliminated. I could go on and on.
Just as Chairman Kasich (who now hosts a FOX News show on Saturdays) produced a responsible budget, so does the RSC. There are over 100 Members now in the House who voted for the Kasich budget. Since then the RSC has grown considerably. If the RSC could persuade those Members who voted for a nearly identical document plus those new Members who have been elected in the past five elections to vote for this budget it would pull the Leadership Budget to the right.
The RSC Chairman is Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN). A former radio talk-show host, Pence is principled, charismatic, dynamic and is serious about this budget and other matters the RSC tackles. He has gone toe to toe with the GOP Leadership many times and has walked away still standing. They, not he, have given in. In this budget Pence was assisted by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who has mastered the ins and outs of this complex document.
I think it can be fairly said that the RSC is doing exactly what Feulner and I had in mind when we assisted Derwinski and Crane in organizing it. Leadership in Congress always drifts left. No matter how sound leaders are when elected, it is the inevitable result of the need to satisfy a constituency which includes Members such as Christopher Shays (R-CT) or Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) or the many others who wear the Republican label but who are anything but conservative. The RSC is here to say to the Leadership, "Not so fast."
This budget deserves to be enacted. If that proves impossible then the Leadership at least should examine it closely to see where additional savings from its budget could be achieved. True, this budget is not designed to mollify special interests. Virtually all of them would be zinged, as well they should be. I am unenthusiastic about most things which emerge from Congress these days. But as for this budget? If I were grading it I would give it an A+!
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
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