Every day, it seems, America awakens to another assault on liberty, prosperity and traditional values. A dearth of leadership. The agonizingly slow death of American exceptionalism. Every day, it seems, it gets harder and harder to comprehend an exit strategy for freedom.
At times, there’s not much to be excited about. We own floundering automobile companies. We watch as the very people charged with our safety and security make concession after concession with dictators, murderous thugs, and regimes across the world who wish us ill will. And, all the while back here at home, we’re expected to sit down, shut up, and gladly relinquish our freedom and potential in exchange for the implementation of an agenda which runs afoul of every idea and ideal on which this nation was founded so many years ago.
Every now and again, however, we see a reason for optimism. It could be an election or two which proves that the death of conservative values has been greatly exaggerated. Or it could be the emergence of a political figure who engenders confidence by consistently erring on the side of the values and principles which we hold dear.
One of those political figures, to me, is Indiana Congressman Mike Pence. A few days ago, we ran a video here at America’s Right put together by Pence, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, and his office. It was fantastic, and this morning I had the chance to speak with him about it and other matters. He was wonderfully gracious to participate, and here was the result:
America’s Right: So, where did the video come from?
Congressman Mike Pence: Well, Jeff, I wrote it in about ten minutes after devotional time on Thursday morning. I try to read about a chapter of the Bible every day, and I was reading a story about Elijah in First Kings where it talked about him despairing. He ended up going off to the mountain and God tells him that there’s a remnant of despair out there. It hit me that it would be timely to encourage Americans to let their voice be heard. It’s a majority of Americans that still cherish limited government, personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, so I literally just flipped open my MacBook and wrote up a first draft in about ten minutes.
AR: I got the sense that it was a coming-out party of sorts for Congressman Mike Pence. I don’t know if that was the intention, and I doubt it was, but it was phenomenal nonetheless.
MP: Well, no. For me, right now what we’re encouraging all members of the House Republican Conference to do is to use every means at their disposal to convey the importance of this historical time to constituents and more broadly to the American public. I really do believe that this is not about the latest round of tax increases and bureaucracy, this is about fundamentally changing the relationship between our national government and our citizens, and we’re encouraging members to convey the importance of it all.
With what happened yesterday, and the election in New Jersey, and also the news from Sen. Harry Reid that he may delay consideration of health care reform until next year in the senate, and we have a fighting chance to fight this government takeover of health care in the House.
AR: You mentioned yesterday. Unlike other prominent Republicans in the party structure like Minority Leader [John] Boehner and on the periphery like former Speaker Newt Gingrich, you have been noticeably quiet with regard to the upstate New York congressional contest. What lesson is there for the Republican Party in the result we saw last night?
MP: Well, let me say that the lesson here is that we all need to fall behind Doug Hoffman for next fall’s election, and I look forward to welcoming him to Congress a year from now. I think he ran a brilliant campaign.
I declined to endorse the Republican candidate up there, but I practice Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment as well — and particularly as a member of the House Republican leadership I didn’t want to speak ill of a Republican candidate for Congress. But people who know me know that I describe myself as a Christian, a conservative and a Republican–and in that order–and what draws me to this business of public life is my belief in limited government, in fiscal and personal responsibility, in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.
My fealty to those ideals did not permit me to endorse the chosen Republican candidate. I’m proud of the race that Doug Hoffman ran. I look forward to speaking with him later today and congratulating him. And I’m very encouraged by his concession speech, and his pledge to fight on. I look forward to fighting at his side in that district prior to the election 12 months from now.
AR: The first item you mentioned in terms of what drew you to public life was limited government. A lot of people on the American right feel as though that basic concept, a limited federal government, fell to the wayside during the latter half of the Bush administration. Do you believe there was a lot of credibility lost for the GOP due to a perceived—and actual—departure from conservatism?
MP: After the 2006 election, when I made the announcement to run for republican leader and challenge my leadership at the time, I said that we didn’t just lose our majority — we lost our way. I said that and still believe it. We walked away from the principles upon which our national governing majority was built, which are limited government, fiscal discipline and reform, and the American people consequently walked away from us.
You know, when I first arrived in Congress in 2001, the first bill they handed me was No Child Left Behind, which was a massive expansion of the federal government’s role in local education. I opposed it. A handful of Republicans opposed it, but it was a signature issue for the president of our party and our party in Congress. In my second term in Congress, the first bill they handed me in early 2003 was the largest expansion of entitlements since the days of the Great Society, the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill. About twenty-five of us dug in on that, and fought against our own party, which led to a three-hour vote on Capitol Hill in November of 2003.
When I spoke at CPAC in 2004–you can see my remarks at MikePence.com in our speech section–I said then that I believed in early 2004 that the Republican Party could be likened to a ship at sea with a proud captain and capable crew and sturdy hull and riggings, but that it had drifted almost imperceptibly off course into the dangers and uncharted waters of big government republicanism. And it did so at its peril.
It would be two-and-a-half years later that our party would pay the price for that departure. But I truly do believe that what lost our national governing majority and what will win it back is first and foremost a commitment and a sincere dedication to limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values.
AR: In your role as leader of the House Republican Conference, do you hear from your colleagues that the Republican Party is prepared to finally become a political vehicle for conservatism? Many people look at Scozzafava and the New York race and her support among establishment Republicans, and it only reaffirms their belief in the viability of a third-party candidate and movement. What lesson is there for those who believe now in the viability of third-party candidates like Doug Hoffman?
MP: Jeff, let me tell you — the difficulty of New York twenty-three should not eclipse the fact that every single House Republican voted against the stimulus bill, that every single House Republican united in opposition to the president’s budget-busting budget, that almost every Republican opposed the cap-and-trade bill, and I think we are poised to have unanimous opposition to Nancy Pelosi’s plan for a government takeover of health care.
I will tell you that I’ve been a critic. The small sliver of Americans who have followed my career will tell you that I’ve been a pretty tough critic of the departure from conservative ideals, that I’ve run against the leaders of my own party in the past, that I’ve never hesitated to break from my party when principle demanded. But from where I’m sitting, I’ve never been prouder to be a Republican in Congress — I see the men and women in this conference coming back to a willingness to practice and do the hard work required by adherence to limited government and fiscal discipline and reform, and I have every confidence that as people look and examine this renewed House Republican Conference on Capitol Hill, they’re going to know that this is a party that has learned the lessons of the wilderness and is ready to return to the vigor of 1994.
AR: So, not to change the subject, but … 1,990 pages – have you finished it?
MP: [Laughing] We set up a reading room yesterday on Capitol Hill. Lots of members came in and were swapping notes reading it. The facts of this are just extraordinary: 1,990 pages; $1.2 trillion in new federal spending; $729.5 billion in new taxes, all of which is to support or provide for all of these entitlement programs created or expanded and the 111 additional offices, commissions, bureaus, programs and bureaucracies which are included in the legislation. And the mandates in this language — the use of the word “shall,” which is mandatory language, appears in the law 3,425 times. And yet Democrats say this isn’t a government takeover of health care?
I encourage the readers of America’s Right to find an online version of the Democrats’ bill [NOTE: We’ve posted the link in the America's Right H.R. 3962 Index] and go through it. They will see that the Democrats mean business, and their business is big government.
AR: Now that you mention the Democrats — when you look at the results from yesterday’s elections, especially a moderate Democrat being defeated in Virginia, what do you think that says to some of your more conservative counterparts across the aisle? Do you believe that Speaker Pelosi has the votes to pass this monstrosity on Friday?
MP: First, I want to acknowledge this from a political end — all politics really is local, and there were issues for the electorates in Virginia and New Jersey that were unique to those areas. But I do think that there is evidence that of a decisive turnaround over the last 12 months in both of those states, evidence that supports a conclusion that the American people want to see a change in direction, that they want to see us get away from this era–under both parties–of borrowing and spending and bailouts and deficit and debt and takeovers.
If that message reaches Capitol Hill, it will be arriving just in the nick of time and will strengthen the hand of those who are looking to see some of these so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats to stand firm and to reach out to Republicans and work with us on our alternative, which is not a big government plan, but rather is a plan to really reduce the cost of health insurance and lower the cost of health care through market-based reforms.
AR: I haven’t read the House GOP’s draft bill yet, but I have seen the highlights, and I’ve noticed that much of it has to do with turning more power over to the states with regard to enacting their own sorts of reform. Is that an homage to Ronald Reagan’s “thousand sparks of genius” speech, basically a free market approach to finding the best solution?
MP: I forget who said it, but someone once said that there’s no problem in America too big or too complicated that it can’t be solved if someone can make a buck solving it. The truth is, if we just will allow Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines, if we just allow small businesses to pool their employees and resources the way major corporations do today and create risk pools on a nationwide basis, we really do believe that we can get an awful far way down the road toward making coverage available to every American without expanding the size and scope of government.
AR: Does it just boil down to a fundamental divide between ideologies? I looked, for instance, at Rep. Steny Hoyer’s comments yesterday that Republicans’ alternatives would not increase availability, how it would not expand access. I sense the involvement of the typical divide between fact and emotion, between liberty and totalitarianism, the tendencies which seem prevalent on each side of the aisle. Is this just a manifestation of that divide?
MP: I’ll leave the terminology to you, Jeff, and to America’s Right, but I think there’s an awful lot of liberals in Washington, D.C. that think that if government isn’t doing it, then ultimately it’s not getting done. We really do believe in the dynamic nature of the American economy, and we think that the fact that insurance is regulated on a state-by-state basis is a real barrier to creating the kinds of products which could fill the gaps in our marketplace, and can help make insurance more affordable to every American.
But yes, there is a fundamental conflict of visions here. Their focus is upon using the size and scope and power of government to achieve universal coverage. Our belief is that we should unleash the power of the private marketplace to lower the cost of health insurance and achieve wider coverage on that basis.
AR: From the looks of things, I get the feeling that you guys are going to have a pretty good year next year. Let’s say that the GOP is able to work its way back into a majority—whether it’s next year or beyond—how do you ensure that the party stays on track and doesn’t fall back into a 2006, bigger government mentality?
MP: Well, you know, the temptation after a good day like yesterday is to think about next year. But I have to tell you — as that video that you were kind enough to post on America’s Right attests, I am myopically focused on this battle over health care reform. I really do believe that whatever the future holds, the future will take care of itself if Republicans and Americans who believe in a limited government dig in, in this moment, and stop this massive government takeover of one-sixth of the American economy.
And, so I’ll leave prognostications and thoughts about 2010 and how the party can get back together — I think we need to take these battles one at a time, and given the magnitude and impact of the government takeover of health care on the very relationship of our national government to our citizens for generations to come, I think we’re going to stay focused on this.
AR: Thank you, Congressman Pence.
MP: You’re welcome, Jeff.