John Shadegg: Republicans Must Fight to Rein in Spending

Conservative Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) declared last week that he is running to become minority whip in the next Congress.

Like Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), who is running for minority leader, Shadegg is a former chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee. He has been a leader among House conservatives in opposing the big-government initiatives of the Bush Administration, including the No Child Left Behind education law and the Medicare prescription-drug entitlement.

In an interview with the editors of HUMAN EVENTS, Shadegg said one of his goals as minority leader would be to restore the GOP’s commitment to limited government. Here are edited excerpts from that interview.

The complete interview is available by downloading the audio Podcast above.

Why are you running for minority whip?

I think it is very important that we listen to the voters and change. As you know, I ran for majority leader last January, and my campaign was based on two major themes centered on the Contract With America: The first promise we made was that we would rein in spending, and my campaign for majority leader made the case that we had not reined in spending. Indeed, we had begun spending at levels exceeding any administration since Lyndon Baines Johnson. I said you simply cannot hold yourself out to the American people as standing for one thing while doing the opposite. The people are going to conclude that you are hypocrites.

The second point I made was that we had promised in 1994 to change the way Washington works. I interpreted that to mean we were going to end the ability of powerful politicians to pull the levers of power to benefit themselves.

I went back and read the Contract With America, and it actually says words that the Democrats didn’t actually use against us in this election, but could have. We said, “We would restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.” Well, clearly, with the Cunningham scandal and the Ney scandal, and the others of that ilk, and with an explosion in earmarks, many of which were snuck in in the dark of night, and for projects that the government has absolutely no business doing, we weren’t following through on that.

I take it you attribute the Republicans’ loss of the majority to the party’s walking away from the limited-government vision of the Contract With America and these ethical issues. But are there other factors you would point to that contributed to the loss?

Yes. But I want to sum it up that we broke faith with the American people. We had an obligation to live up to the contract, and over time, we allowed ourselves to drift away from it. But I think there are other points. Some of them are not as straightforward and are more difficult to deal with.

We were fundamentally saying to the American people that the war in Iraq is the center of the War on Terror and that there are very serious consequences for leaving that war without getting the job done. In doing that, what we were saying to the electorate is that we have to do the responsible and correct thing, which is very difficult—and which is the message President Bush has been giving the American public. The Democrats, by contrast, were simply saying, “Nah, the war in Iraq has nothing to do with the War on Terror and we can walk away without consequences.” It was a little bit like we were saying, “Look, if you want to stay healthy, you have to eat the right foods and exercise.” And the Democrats were saying, “No, you don’t. Just relax and have a good time and go have a beer and some popcorn.” Ours is a harder sell.

You know that a Democratic majority led by Nancy Pelosi is going to try to do a lot of bad things. They are probably going to try to raise taxes, to spend more money than even the Republican majority did. As minority whip, how are you going to prevent that from happening?

I think you raise an interesting question of what the job of minority whip is. In my view, the job of minority whip is very different from the job of majority whip, and I have never aspired to be majority whip. When you are majority whip, you take the agreed-upon agenda of the team and you try to pass it into law. You have to go broker and cajole and, in some cases, dicker to get votes. I am not particularly good at those things. That’s not how I was composed. I think as minority whip you have to be, to some degree, an attack dog. You have to be willing to be very aggressive and be right in the face of the opposition. And, quite frankly, I think you have to be more philosophical. I think we need a philosophically oriented whip who can mount the arguments to take on the Democrats when, for example, they propose, as you just suggested, allowing tax rates to go back up.

Somebody has to get out there right in their face and say: Look, the tax rate reductions that we have enacted have helped every single level of the American populace. The claim, for example, that just the rich have benefited is false. Then you need to be able to get in their face and say, in point of fact—whether this is good or bad, it is true—the tax burden of the wealthiest, the proportion of taxes they have paid, has gone up and the tax burden of those least well off in our society has gone down under the Bush tax cuts.

Contrary to what Howard Dean would have the world believe, the reality is the exact opposite. The economy has benefited. We have an all-time, record-low unemployment rate. We have lots of capital, and a booming economy.

I think you need a very different person as the minority whip. I think I have the skills for that and the appetite for it. As I said to one of my colleagues today, it reminds me a little bit of 1994, because it’s time to be revolutionaries again.

There is a fear among conservatives that an amnesty plan like the one that passed the Senate in this last Congress, and like the one supported by President Bush, will pass through a Democratic Congress and be signed by Bush. Are you going to fight, if you are whip, to stop that kind of immigration reform?

I don’t support that kind of immigration reform. I think the single most important feature of the immigration debate is the danger presented to us as a nation if we allow people to become citizens of this country too easily—if we allow them to become citizens of this country without essentially saying reflectively, “You know what, I have thought about it, I may have been born in Mexico or France or Chile, but my heart lies with America, American values, American beliefs, the American agenda, and the American ideal, and I want to give up citizenship in the country where I was born and adopt America as my first nation, giving up citizenship and the right to vote in any other nation.” I think that is what is at the heart of the debate, and that is what threatens the nation. I guarantee you I am going to push very, very hard, whether I am minority whip, or in any capacity as a voting member of this Congress, not to allow us to weaken our immigration laws, and not to allow a Democrat Congress to shove through an amnesty bill that creates an automatic path to citizenship or a path to citizenship that does not sort out those that just come here for a job from those who come here and say, like the immigrants of generations ago, I want to be an American, I share the American dream.