Weldon is best choice for House Armed Services Cmte
By Paul M. Weyrich
Last week I mentioned the importance of the Chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee to conservatives and to the nation. There is a second contest for a House Committee Chairmanship of equal importance to the nation. This is not an ideological battle. In this case both candidates are conservative. In fact the candidate I believe should win is the more moderate of the two, but as I say, ideology is not the question here.
The committee in question here is the House Armed Services Committee. Ever since the Republicans won control of Congress, that Committee has been led by Rep. Floyd Spence of South Carolina. First elected in 1970, Spence was the loyal foot soldier who waited his turn through the seniority system. But just as he finally attained the prize he waited for so many years to obtain, the eager, hard-charging freshmen changed the rules and imposed term limits on their committee chairmen. This limit drove some Members, such as Bill Archer, Chairman of Ways and Means for the three allowable terms, to retire. In the case of Spence, he has elected to become chairman of one of the key subcommittees of Armed Services instead. But he did have to step down as overall chairman.
In the days when seniority ruled, Rep. Bob Stump of Arizona would simply have been the next chairman. No questions asked. But that was then and this is now. Now, chairmen are elected, and the most senior member can be defeated by another senior member of the committee. Stump, who was first elected as a Democrat and later changed parties, is now in his mid-70's. A solid conservative, he is the only member of the Arizona delegation who refused to support Sen. John McCain. That took some courage, as McCain is mean enough that even normally principled Sen. Jon Kyl felt obliged to hop on board his bandwagon.
Stump is a fine patriot, and were these ordinary times, it would certainly do no harm to cap his career with this chairmanship, thus allowing him to retire with that greater dignity. But given what Bill Clinton has done to our military and given the challenges this nation faces around the world, clearly something out of the ordinary is called for.
Representative Curt Weldon hails from suburban Philadelphia. The last product of an infamous Republican political machine that used to rival Democratic city politics, it is the last place one would expect to find a Member of the House with a strategic vision for our national defense. But Weldon is nothing short of remarkable. While most Republican Members were content to mouth clichés about Bill Clinton's policies creating enemies where we once had friends, Weldon actually got to know Members of Parliament in Russia and elsewhere. He has a better grasp of the strategic situation in that part of the world than perhaps any other Member. I have seen it first hand.
Other Members of Congress get lip service from Russia. Weldon gets respect. It was Weldon who actually came up with the framework for peace which the United States backed at the last moment which averted an all out ground war in Yugoslavia. Weldon also has a totally realistic view of China and understands the situation in strategic terms.
Weldon has a game plan, both internally and externally, if he becomes Chairman of Armed Services. While he is committed to rebuilding the military and especially boosting the morale of those in uniform, he will be no automatic shill for the Pentagon. Weldon is as skeptical of some of the Pentagon's government spending as he has been of welfare waste fraud and abuse. Many of the powerful lobbies don't want to see him as Chairman because they know he has a keen ear for lies. He also doesn't take kindly to those defense industries which run to the Republicans to get spending increased but then hedge their bets by supporting Democratic candidates for Congress. If Weldon is the Chairman, it will not be business as usual.
Weldon's plan for reorganizing the Committee is attracting great interest. He would reconfigure subcommittees to more closely parallel their appropriations counterparts, establish a better liaison with other Committees, put the House on a better footing with the Senate Armed Services Committee in joint negotiations, and so on. His plan to make greater use of mid-level and more junior Members has made him a real contender in this race.
While he does not buy every program rivals at the Pentagon put forth, he is an absolutely tireless advocate for a strategic missile defense and he is convinced that if we do it right Russia can be convinced to accept it in her interest as well.
Weldon has astonishing energy. Really this race is about who is equipped to be the chairman for the 21st Century. Bob Stump would have been a fine Chairman back during the Cold War when stouthearted patriots were needed to blunt the Communists. Today, a forward-looking, strategic thinking, extraordinarily insightful chairman is required to meet the complexities not only of this new century but what Clinton and Company have added by their behavior.
Curt Weldon is that man.
Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.
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