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In defense of David Dreier

By Chris Kinnan
web posted October 17, 2005

Representative David DreierAs the dust still settles from this month's House leadership shuffle, conservatives should not be too hasty to reject the services of Representative David Dreier (R-Calif.) during the weeks and months ahead.

The new interim Majority Leader/Whip, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) should be an effective leader for the House majority. But for a brief moment, Speaker Hastert (R-Ill.) had suggested that Dreier fill this temporary duty. In the power scrum that followed, Dreier took an unfair beating when some conservatives claimed he is not appropriate for a leadership role.

Like Ronald Reagan, Dreier is a sunny California Republican in favor of limited, pro-growth government at home and vigorous and strong foreign policy abroad. Perhaps more importantly, Rep. Dreier is useful at this moment in history. Giving him a higher profile can help inoculate the GOP against the latest Democrat attack line hitting the "Republican culture of corruption."

The reason: Dreier is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, where he authored and implemented the landmark 1995 procedural reforms for Congress. These changes were part of the Contract with America, and they instituted key Congressional reforms, like adding term limits for committee chairman, opening hearings to the public, and ending proxy voting in committee. David Dreier is a public face for a set of popular reforms that made the operation of the House of Representatives vastly more open and fair. For reasons both practical and political, it is time to dust off that reformist spirit.

Dreier is also a supply-side superstar and a staunch free-trader, serving as the point person in the Republican leadership on trade issues. Congressman Dreier clearly thinks big and ambitiously on economic policy. For instance, he serves as co-chairman of the bipartisan Zero Capital Gains Tax Caucus. The goal of this caucus is to completely eliminate the "burdensome and counterproductive" double tax on capital formation. He is sharp and is willing to dig into the policy details: during the last recession Dreier became an expert on the differences between the two job surveys so that he could effectively debate the Democrats on unemployment figures.

Dreier's main policy economic weakness is on pork spending, having been tainted by the same earmark trichinosis that infects most of the House GOP. And although some social conservatives are not fond of him, Rep. Dreier has a lifetime rating of 92 from the American Conservative Union.

No doubt, the media and the partisan witch hunters will try to demonize whoever is leading the Republican Party. Dreier is a savvy choice to play a role, though. He is well-presented and well-spoken, good on policy, and has an opportunity to change the GOP's image on Capitol Hill at a time when the public views Congress in a dim light.

The national GOP has lost its way on spending, and that collapse now threatens the rest of the agenda, especially permanent tax relief and Social Security reform. We can do better. As a spokesman and as a policy-maker, Dreier can effectively represent the optimistic politics of growth and inclusion, of reform and renewal. Republicans should use this unfortunate leadership crisis to return to the core agenda of spending restraint, tax relief, and limited but effective government. That is the agenda that unifies the economic and social conservative parts of the GOP coalition and is the agenda that brought the GOP to the majority. Republicans should not hastily discard this proven approach.

A former Congressional staffer, Chris Kinnan works in public affairs in Washington, D.C.

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