For years, the Republican Study Committee has been Command Central for true conservatives in the House -- a sort of internal think tank for those more interested in ideas than in careerism. It will be chaired this year by rising star Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio -- and its new head of communications will be Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who is perfectly suited for the task. Scalise also has been making a name for himself as an aggressive and effective advocate for energy exploration and development. In a relaxed interview on the Gulf Coast during the Christmas break, he had plenty of interesting things to say, including a clever and accurate way to turn around an epithet the Democrats and establishment media (forgive me for repeating myself) like to hurl at Republicans.
Forget Republicans being the "Party of No," says Scalise. It is Barack Obama who risks becoming "The President of 'No'." It is Republicans who are pushing a thoughtful and popular agenda, and the president vetoes or otherwise blocks that agenda at his own political peril.
"He can't ignore our ideas anymore, because we are running things in the House," Scalise said.
"There is a great opportunity for us as House Republicans as a majority to restore constitutional principles, even if the media doesn't give us a fair shake and Obama has the bully pulpit. By our actions, we can redefine [the public's understanding of] what it means to be a conservative -- on spending, on job creation, and on health care. We can start by repealing Obama's law and then replacing it with real reforms.
"We also can pass a real national energy policy -- an 'all-of-the-above' approach. This president is making our country more dependent on foreign oil. It's jeopardizing American energy security and it is costing many thousands of American jobs. The administration is punishing the companies that were playing by the rules and operating safely. It's what I call a 'permitorium.' It's real. You can go along the Gulf and see companies losing millions of dollars and losing thousands of workers all because of this president's policies and against the advice of his own scientific experts who say we should let people go back to work and drill safely."
As gasoline prices leave $3-per-gallon behind and rocket towards the outrageous $4 mark, Scalise is absolutely right that this is an important -- and winning -- issue. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he is well positioned to carry the fight. He said he will offer a bill taking discretion away from regulatory agencies so that they "must," rather than "may," allow offshore drilling off of Virginia and other states that welcome it. He notes that this would be not just good energy policy, but good fiscal policy too: Royalties would accrue to the federal government, to the tune of many billions of dollars, to cut the national debt.
Aside from energy policy, Scalise also is pushing two other bills that may appear to be "small ball" in terms of direct savings, but that could set the tone for a serious reduction of federal overreach. First, he would "sunset" funding for all presidential policy "czars" unless they are confirmed by the Senate. Second, he would change the policy concerning the disposition of any unused money from individual congressional offices at the end of each year. Now the money reverts back to the Speaker's office, to be used (in effect) at the Speaker's discretion. There's no incentive, therefore, for Members not to splurge. Scalise would require that unused funds be used to reduce the national debt. If the media reports on this stewardship of congressional office funds the way it reports on, say, campaign finance reports, then congressmen could get popular credit from their constituents for their thriftiness.
Both symbolically and in practice, says Scalise, "The country is very hungry for real solutions to our spending problems. People want to have an adult conversation for how we start solving these problems. They want to see a step-by-step approach, and that's what we intend to give them."
Methinks Steve Scalise is on the right track. Conservatives should get used to hearing more from him, and to liking what they hear.
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