Human Events Editors Terence Jeffrey and John Gizzi talked with Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) last week about his campaign to become the new House majority leader.
Your opponents for the majority leadership voted for the Medicare prescription drug plan and the No Child Left Behind education program, both of which President Bush pushed hard for. You voted against both. As majority leader, could you actually stand up against a Republican President if he tried to push through another program that you opposed because it expanded government in an unwarranted way?
Rep. John Shadegg: The answer to that question is: Yes. I think the sentiment of the Congress has changed. Many members of the House now recognize that we need to define ourselves as opposed to the White House and make clear where we stand on issues like that.
George Bush has many strong points. I happen to like his foreign policy very much. I think spreading democracy throughout the world is the right thing to do. But on domestic policy there has been disappointment, and were he to call for another effort to expand government dramatically like either of those programs you mentioned, I think it would be easily doable to stand up to him and resist that.
What is the biggest problem facing House Republicans now?
Rep. Shadegg: The single biggest problem facing us right now is to get back on our agenda. We made two promises back in 1994. One was to shrink the size of the government—make it smaller, tax less, spend less, regulate less, expand individual responsibility and individual freedom, and have a strong national defense. But we also promised to clean up government. I think we have fallen short on both counts. We have not shrunk government. Indeed, we are expanding it at a breakneck speed that simply cannot be defended. We have also not cleaned it up. The most telling blow against us right now is that it appears that we did not change Washington, Washington changed us. We need to make clear to Americans that we will tolerate no improprieties, no late-night deals, no secret backroom exercise of power by a small group of powerful members, but we will decide issues on the merits. Getting back to our agenda—and making sure the American people understand that we are fulfilling both promises—is the challenge that faces Republicans in Congress.
Although the Contract With America, that you signed and were elected on in 1994, does not mention abolishing the Departments of Education or Energy or the National Endowment for the Arts, many Republicans that year campaigned very hard on those issues. There were moves in the embryonic stages of the Republican Congress to actually close down Cabinet departments or major agencies. Looking specifically at those three examples, do you think those issues can be resuscitated in Congress?
Rep. Shadegg: It is going to be very difficult to eliminate an entire department. I am sorry to say that, but it appears to be true. I personally believe there is no place in the federal government for a Department of Education. It is not in the Constitution. There is no mention anywhere in the Constitution that the federal government has any role in education. I believe that the federal government doesn’t have a role in education. I have several members of my family, including my wife, who are teachers, who are not at all happy with the so-called No Child Left Behind bill, which I think has gone far astray from what it was even intended to do. And I would like to hope that at some point we could get the federal government out of the business of education altogether, and acknowledge that this is policy that should be decided at the state level. How viable that is in the near future, I am not sure.
I did work to try to abolish the Department of Education, and I personally believe it shouldn’t exist.
The National Endowment for the Arts is one area where there is ongoing discussion of the role of government and whether we should be doing that at all. It still does not have a legitimate government purpose. It still should not exist as a federally funded function, and there is some sentiment to go back to that point.
When we tried to kill it before, the vote count simply wasn’t there. We had too many moderate Republicans who had too many supporters back home to allow us to kill it, so we made an effort to clean it up. My friend, Rep. Mark Souder, would say that we made progress in that effort, but that it still needs more work. I think that is an ongoing debate and is a more realistic possibility than eliminating the Department of Education.
With regard to the Department of Energy: Again, abolishing the entire department, though, I don’t know that it does anything in terms of what we really need to do in energy policy. I believe [it] is going to be extremely difficult. I am sorry to say that. That is not where my personal heart is. But I think that is the reality.
There’s a perception that conservatives are really good at fighting in the House as the outsiders. You led the Republican Study Committee in that role. But as majority leader how do you deal with members like Rep. Chris Shays and Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut—who take a more moderate approach, and are from the Northeast—and bring them behind an agenda that is basically conservative?
Rep. Shadegg: There are issues on which the moderates in the conference agree with the conservatives in the conference. We are facing such tremendous financial pressure on the Congress right now that there are many moderates who agree that we are spending too much money. Now, they might disagree on where that money should be spent, but Chris Shays, as an example, does not agree that we should have the level of spending we are having right now. Rep. Charlie Bass [N.H.] would also agree that we should not have this level of spending. They are offended by it, and believe it is a threat to our nation and future generations.
So there are issues on which we can find common ground with moderates, and I would try to focus on those areas, where we have a possibility [of working together]. Obviously, that doesn’t include all the moderates, some of whom aren’t even willing to be fiscal conservatives.
During the recent votes on appropriations measures, the provision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge had to be taken out because a small number of Republicans were not going to go for any package that included it. On the other hand, Democrats, including members such Rep. Gene Green from Texas and Jack Murtha from Pennsylvania, voted “no” in lockstep on ANWR. Democrats are exercising party discipline. Republicans are not, with their moderates. What would you do about it, particularly with ANWR?
Rep. Shadegg: You cannot expect a member to cast a vote that is inconsistent with what they believe they have to do to represent their district. In what you described, showing that Democrats voted against their district, I think that is going redound to the discredit of those Democrats. What is happening is that the minority leader is putting them under such intense pressure. Can you imagine telling Gene Green you cannot vote for ANWR or additional oil exploration? I am sure that is a vote he and others in his conference are having a very difficult time explaining back home. The reality is we have to put those kinds of votes on the floor under circumstances where we can get the Democrats to cross over and say to their leadership, “We simply cannot go there with you.” We will ultimately be able to do that on the House side by taking ANWR out of the deficit reduction act and putting it into the Defense Appropriations. That simply requires being prudent.
I think you have to win over members of your conference to a common agenda, not threaten or cajole them. I believe that what Nancy Pelosi has been doing to get the kind of discipline you are talking about in her conference is not winning them over on ideas. It’s fear and intimidation. I don’t believe fear and intimidation is any way to run a conference. Unfortunately, I think there’s been, if anything, too much of that on the Republican side.
When we had an agenda of common principles and ideas in 1994, as you referred to in the Contract With America, we didn’t have problems with moderates’ defecting. We knew what our vision was, what our direction was, what our ideals were. We had worked out the differences on those issues, come to agreement on the basics, and we were pushing forward on that agenda. We had moderates voting with conservatives not because moderates were being threatened, or bludgeoned, or cajoled, as I believe Nancy Pelosi is doing, but because we had found common ground. That’s the way to get an agenda accomplished.
If President Bush comes to you as majority leader and asks you to get as many votes as you can for a guest worker program that allows illegal aliens to stay here in the United States, will you get votes for the President on a bill like that?
Rep. Shadegg: The immigration issue is interesting in that a lot of the terms get confused. I am absolutely opposed to any form of amnesty, which would encourage illegals to enter the country in the future in the hope that they will be given a dispensation, or otherwise be allowed to stay even though they got here illegally. Amnesty is clearly not in the interest of the American government or people because it is a fundamental offense against the rule of law. Any time you grant anything that can even be looked at as an amnesty, you encourage more people to come illegally. I will not in anyway support something that I consider to be an amnesty.
We need to engage in enforcement at the border. At some point we need to move forward with greater workplace enforcement. And at some point we will need to address the issue of whether anybody should be allowed to come into the country legally to work at some point in the future. But that should not be an amnesty, and that should be considered after we have achieved security at the border and it should be based on what level of outside workers ought to allowed in lawfully, not how many of the people who are here illegally should be allowed to stay. Particularly, I don’t think anybody here illegally should be essentially given a carte blanche to stay in the country.
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