If the Republican majority in the Senate and House can somehow stave off a newly energized Democratic assault in the midterm polls next November and preserve their governing status, they may well have Indiana Rep. Mike Pence to thank. It has been Pence and his roughly 100 colleagues in the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) who have almost single-handedly stopped the chronic GOP overspending of the past five years and forced the first full-fledged budget-cutting bill since 1997.
In doing so, Pence and his dedicated band of House members — people like Jeff Flake, Jeb Hensarling, John Shadegg and Marsha Blackburn — have begun to force the GOP back to the first principles of lower taxes, limited government, a strong defense and a fierce dedication to moral authority, including the preservation of the rights of the unborn.
As legislation is slowly rolling through Congress to restrain spending and extend vital pro-growth tax cuts, Pence and his pals have changed the thinking of both the House leadership and the president. To be sure, big-government conservatism has up to now ruled the roost during the Bush years in Washington, but Pence and his friends refuse to accept the notion that big government — or the siren song of central planning — will ever work any better under Republicans than it did under Democrats.
With $300 billion deficits as far as the eye can see, Pence and Co. have ripped through subsidies, redundancies, pork barreling, farm aid and corporate welfare in order to completely reform federal spending. Their plan reminds me of what’s going on in Detroit, where automakers Ford and GM are closing dozens of plants in painful measures that are necessary to staying afloat.
I often wonder, where are the announcements of federal-budget plant closings in Washington? Departments and agencies that in some cases were literally founded centuries ago continue to survive in the 21st century as though the Google-Internet-information-age economy never occurred. Of course, everything has changed, and that is what Pence and his pals are trying to say. And it’s not just on the spending side, but on the tax-reform side, as well. Pence insists that President Bush’s tax cuts on personal income, capital gains and investor dividends — the ones that successfully reignited the U.S. economy in mid-2003 — be made permanent. And while he has been supportive of a Dick Armey/Steve Forbes-type flat tax, he is now looking into the fair tax that would abolish the Internal Revenue Code altogether.
Pence may describe himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” but no one should confuse his self-effacing, low-key style with even a hint of political squishiness. The Indianan was one of only a handful of Republicans to vote against President Bush’s fiscally bloated No Child Left Behind education bill. He also voted against the outrageously expensive Medicare prescription-drug bill, saying he “would not support a new middle-class entitlement.”
More recently, he and the RSC launched “operation offset” — a budget-cutting response to the $62 billion Hurricane Katrina assistance plan. While then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was proclaiming that Republicans had cut all the fat in the federal budget, Pence and his group developed a breathtakingly bold plan that would lower the federal spending baseline by $102 billion in 2006 and by $950 billion over 10 years. Think of it as the no-wasteful-program-goes-unnoticed approach to budget pruning.
Pence considers himself an “unregenerate supply-sider,” who believes in pro-growth and free-market economics. His central aim is to marry supply-side tax reforms with strict spending restraint in order to expand the economy and get the budget into balance. That may put Pence and his comrades in the Washington minority these days, but the momentum just may be shifting their way.
As an important aside, Pence is a church-going evangelical who believes that “the sanctity of human life is the central axiom of Western civilization.” He supports traditional marriage, refuses to accept gambling money for his campaigns and is sustained by his faith through all the tough political decisions. “You know,” he tells me, “my M.O. is to vote Right and then go home for dinner.” Good advice.
Mike Pence is the kind of new blood that the GOP needs if it is to follow through on a return to the first principles of budget and tax cutting.
In a way, he is delivering classical truths dressed in new clothes. Is his style working? The early political results are positive. But for a sclerotic Washington GOP, much more work has yet to be done — although it’s increasingly clear that Pence and his cohorts are right for the job.