All three of the candidates for House minority leader are conservatives, and all three have expressed a welcome commitment to return the party to principles of limited government. That said, one candidate stands out as the best choice because of his background and the unique role that the next Republican leader must serve. That candidate is Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), who has already been serving very effectively as a minority leader of sorts in his role as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Democrats won the House from Republicans, but they didn’t win it from conservatives, who were already in the minority. The big-government Republicans too often governed like Democrats, dramatically expanding non-defense spending, creating a massive new entitlement program, creating a massive new regulatory apparatus, Sarbanes-Oxley, all while letting the pushes for tax reform and Social Security reform stall.
Rep. John Boehner (R.-Ohio) has been an able majority leader in his short stint, and has always been a strong opponent of earmarks, one of the symbols of big government excess that led to last week’s defeat. Indeed Boehner, unlike Pence and the third candidate for leader, Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Tex.), voted against last year’s bloated highway bill.
To Pence’s credit, however, when the federal budget outlook deteriorated because of Hurricane Katrina, he quickly led an effort to rescind the earmarks in the highway bill, along with other aggressive reductions in wasteful spending, to offset the costs of recovery. The earmark reform that passed the House under Boehner’s leadership was a considerable achievement, but comprehensive earmark reform must go further, and Pence, along with the Republican Study Committee, have led the fight on this issue.
Pence, unlike Barton and Boehner, voted against the Medicare prescription drug benefit, in the face of unrelenting pressure from the White House. He led an effort to buck the White House that very nearly killed the bill, failing by just one vote in the wee hours of the morning.
The Medicare drug benefit, by itself, created a larger unfunded liability for taxpayers, about $18 trillion, than the entire Social Security shortfall. The bill represented a cynical triumph of perceived political interest over principled governance. With the creation of new health care entitlements a likely ambition of Democrats, having a leader who is willing to stand up and make the case against such ostensibly popular programs will be critical. Good policy is also ultimately good politics too, as the many former Congressmen who were hit hard for supporting the drug benefit now know.
Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman has called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 the biggest problem facing the U.S. economy, and some economists have estimated the total market impact of this vast regulatory apparatus to be in excess of $1 trillion. Pence, Boehner and Barton all voted for this law, for which they should be forgiven because nearly everyone else did too: It passed 423 to 3. Pence, unlike Boehner and Barton, has tried to reduce the burden. He is a co-sponsor of legislation, sponsored by Republican Study Committee member Tom Feeney (R.-Fla.), which would pare back the worst excesses of the law. This is a uniquely fertile area of potential pro-growth bipartisan action, because Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has also expressed a desire to revisit Sarbanes-Oxley.
On a wide variety of other issues from asbestos litigation reform to indexing the capital gains tax to opposing minimum wage increases, Pence can be counted on to routinely stake principled pro-growth positions. Under Mike Pence, the Republican Study Committee has been a powerful economic policy force, a beacon of principle and the conscience of the party.
The repudiation of pork barrel, big government spending as a Republican strategy opens the door for a return to limited-government principles, the force that won the twin revolutions of 1980 and 1994. Now the entire Republican conference must become as dedicated to principle and as steadfast in its opposition to the expansion of government as the Republican Study Committee has been. That’s why the RSC’s leader should become the Republican leader.