Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Goldwater's Example and the Spirit of 1994

Anybody invoking Goldwater has my support!

January 18, 2006; Page A10

WASHINGTON -- Ten years ago, the American people put Republicans in control of the House of Representatives for the first time in more than 40 years. It was a historic achievement, made possible because we stood for the principles the American people believed in: smaller government, returning power to the states, lower taxes, greater individual freedom and -- above all -- reform.

Some Republican leaders in the House seem to have lost sight of those principles, though the American people still believe in them. Meanwhile, Americans are sick of scandals. To fully regain their confidence -- and to retain and grow the Republican majority -- we need to make a clean break with the past and return to our ideals.

Republicans promised the American people two things in 1994. First, we promised to rein in the size and scope of the federal government. Second, we promised to clean up Washington. In recent years, we have fallen short on both counts. Total federal spending has grown by 33% since 1995, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Worse, we have permitted some of the same backroom practices that flourished in the old Democrat-controlled House. Powerful members of Congress are able to insert provisions giving away millions -- even tens of millions -- of dollars in the dead of night. The recent scandals involving Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff have highlighted the problem, but this is not just a case of a few bad apples. The system itself needs structural reforms.

This has been clear for some time. I did not discover reform as an issue -- like Saul on the road to Damascus -- when I entered the majority leader race. It has been an integral part of my record, not at one time a decade ago, but constantly, year in and year out since 1994. Yesterday John Boehner wrote on this page about a proposal to reform the earmark process offered by Rep. Jeff Flake. While Mr. Boehner is suddenly talking about this idea, I was one of the first co-sponsors when it was introduced last spring.

We need sunshine in the earmark process, and an end to secret, backroom deals. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, the total number of earmarks in 2005 was nearly 14,000 -- compared with only 1,439 in 1995. Earmarked money is often spent without the oversight and consideration in the regular appropriations process, so waste, abuse or even fraud is more likely. Congress should base decisions on what is good for America, not what is good for the lobbyist friends of a few.

Every year Congress adopts a budget, and every year we exceed it. Cheats and dodges -- supplemental spending without offsets, "off budget" spending -- hide this expenditure, but it is added to our national debt, a legacy of irresponsibility to burden future generations. We are still using a budget process that dates from 1974, when Democrats ruled the House and the government was a fraction of its current size. We need reforms in our budget rules to force Congress to stay within the budget it adopts.

No elected official who takes a bribe, including a member of Congress, should get a taxpayer-funded pension. This is a reform I proposed months ago, as soon as we learned about Duke Cunningham's crimes, and it is one that others have urged for years. Who is afraid of this reform?

I grew up watching the example of Barry Goldwater, who worked closely with my father. He taught me that "a government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." That philosophy guided me when I ran for Congress in 1994. I was thrilled to be part of the Revolutionary Class of '94, and the sense of hope and mission of the early days after the American people elected a Republican majority in the House is still with me. We believed then that we could take back our government, and I believe it today.

When I ran for policy chairman last year, I said I wanted to help the leadership, and our entire Republican Conference, achieve our agenda for the American people, and I still do. I was able to reach out to all corners of our conference, and was honored to be elected without opposition.

Since then I have worked to bring the conference together by hosting a series of Unity Dinners to find consensus on the difficult issue of immigration reform. The bill we passed at the end of last year was significantly based on the progress we made.

In order to make clear my commitment to this race, and my goal of leading a reinvigorated Republican majority, I resigned from my position as policy chairman. I am proud of the work the policy committee has done, but I believe it is not appropriate to try to retain one position in our elected leadership while running for another. My campaign is based on reform, and those who claim reform should lead by example.

House Republicans differ about policy and tactics, but we stand together in our respect for this institution, our hatred of corruption, and our support for the basic principles of our party. The American people overwhelmingly support the principles we stand for. We cannot allow the current scandals to distract their attention from our substantive agenda. If we do not make a clear, public break with the recent past, there is a good chance we will lose our majority.

I do not need a poll or questionnaire to tell me what Republicans stand for. The party of Ronald Reagan exists not to expand government, but to protect the American people from government's excesses. President Reagan once said, "If you're afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again." House Republicans are ready to move again, too.

Rep. Shadegg of Arizona is a candidate for majority leader of the House of Representatives.