EDITOR’s NOTE: The following post was written by a Heritage Foundation colleague Alex Adrianson who attended a meeting yesterday with other bloggers (including myself) and Tom DeLay. Alex, who is the editor of The Insider Online, gives his take on DeLay and provides a good synopsis of the issues covered in yesterday’s meeting. I write briefly about the meeting here. Robert Bluey covers it extensively here. If you would like to email Alex regarding his post, send me a note and I will forward it on.
Yesterday at The Heritage Foundation, Former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told to a weekly meeting of bloggers that conservatives need to rethink how they advance a small-government agenda. Calling the proliferation of congressional earmarks disgusting and in need of reform, DeLay nevertheless said that the focus should be less on the amount of money the federal government spends than on redefining government based on conservative principles. DeLay argued for an agenda of entitlement reform and eliminating whole departments such as Energy, Education, Commerce, and significantly downsizing the Department of Agriculture.
DeLay came to the group in order to promote his new political Web site (TomDeLay.com) and its affiliated Grass-roots Action and Information Network (GAIN). In addition to the usual political fare (calling Barrack-Obama a Marxist-Leninist), DeLay made a vigorous case for small government as a matter of political principle, not just as a budgetary imperative.
For example, DeLay defended his vote for the prescription drug entitlement (something which other conservative groups, including The Heritage Foundation, have criticized) even though it increased spending. He said it was the right thing to do because it applied conservative principles to a socialist welfare program. Noting that the new program uses choice and competition to update a program created before prescription drugs were a major part of health care, DeLay said greater use of prescription drugs could make Americans healthier and save money in the long run. He also said that Health Savings Accounts, part of the same political package, are a major innovation that moves health care away from first-dollar insurance coverage. That problem is cited by many conservative policy analysts as the major factor driving health care expenditures up. The ultimate goal, said DeLay, should be to repeal Medicare altogether and get government out of the health care sector.
DeLay responded specifically to questions about the proliferation of budgetary earmarks during the era of united Republican government. He said it had gotten out of hand under Bush, and that it was partly his (DeLay’s) fault for letting it get out of hand. But he also argued that earmarks played a legitimate role as an institutional check on the power of the President. President Clinton, he noted, didn’t want to spend money in Republican districts. (By this standard, one supposes that Democrats are now being politically foolish in forswearing earmarks for the next year, since they face a President of the other party.)
DeLay also took a shot at the Coburn-Obama spending transparency law, saying it wouldn’t do much except help members show how much they had done for their constituents. DeLay does propose, however, his own version of earmark reform. He wants Congress, as part of redesigning the appropriations process, to set criteria by which earmarks can be judged. He also proposes that Congress bring entitlement spending into the annual budget process.
DeLay says that government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is the most meaningful measure by which to judge Congress’s budgetary performance. And by that measure, he said, things weren’t all that bad. Federal spending has increased slightly since declining to 18.4 percent of GDP right before Bush became President, but then, noted DeLay, a war happened. DeLay said he was actually very miffed at Sen. John McCain for saying that Congress was spending money like a drunken sailor.
Unlike many others who have diagnosed the Republican defeat, DeLay does not believe that Republicans lost because they stopped being conservative. He believes Republicans were not effective at explaining what they were doing, and he said he includes himself in that indictment. He cited two other factors: the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform, which he says gave all power to the shadow party of George Soros; and the fact that he had to resign from House leadership because of indictments brought against him by his political opponents. The replacement leadership, he said, was slow to get a campaign strategy up and running, and when they did they made mistakes like having President Bush talk up the war in September.
On McCain-Feingold, DeLay said: “I don’t think there is enough money in politics,” noting that this year Americans spent more money on potato chips than was spent on the midterm elections.
All in all, an interesting session with a man many conservatives blame for the Republican loss in November. While I don’t agree with his pooh-poohing of earmarks, he is right when he says that the argument for small government should come from conservative principles, not green eye shades.