by Lowman S. Henry | January 29, 2007

Congressional Republicans rudderless

It has become clear in recent years that Congressional Republicans are lost in the wilderness. U.S. Senator John McCain summed up the situation best when he said: “We went to Washington to change government, and government changed us.” Now, even after having been relegated back to minority status by the voters, some in the GOP are showing signs of not having learned their lesson.

The new Democrat majority in the House of Representatives as part of its “first 100 hours” legislative agenda enacted the first federal tax hike in 13 years. Cleverly disguised under the mom and apple pie rubric as “The Clean Energy Act of 2007,” the bill is a defacto tax increase on domestic energy production to fund politically selected “alternative” energy projects.

The Clean Energy Act of 2007 is a big government solution that tramples the principles of free market economics. Dr. Wayne Brough, Director of Research for FreedomWorks, explains that: “The market has proved to be the best at allocating scarce resources. Private venture capitalists have responded to the opportunities in diversifying our energy supply with over $63 billion in investments. Solutions to our energy needs will be met by investment and innovation, not through bureaucratic mandates.”

Not only does the Clean Energy Act of 2007 raise taxes on domestic oil producers, but it takes the money and creates an Orwellian sounding new bureaucracy called the “Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewable Reserve.” This new agency will, with little public oversight, hand out money to pet projects essentially creating a new honey pot for Congressional earmarking.

The Clean Energy Act of 2007 is bad public policy and it is bad politics for Republicans. While a majority of Republicans voted against the tax hike, 36 GOP Representatives supported it. Such a desertion from Republican anti-tax orthodoxy presents the electorate with a muddled message.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform summed up the situation well: “Fifteen days into the 110th Congress, tax and spenders are already . . . (shoving) . . . a tax hike down our throats. I don’t think this was the bold ā€˜change’ Americans voted for.” It certainly isn’t what Republican voters, angry over the abandonment of core principles by their elected Congressional representatives, would want.

Of the 36 wayward Republicans, three hail from Pennsylvania. The anti-taxpayer votes cast by Congressman Jim Gerlach of Chester County and Charles Dent from the Lehigh Valley are particularly disturbing in that both signed a “no new taxes” pledge organized by Americans for Tax Reform. Apparently the pledge came in handy during the election campaign, but the promise meant nothing when it came time for the Congressmen to act. The third GOP tax heretic was Congressman Todd Platts of York County. Given that Platts represents one of the most conservative districts in the state, his vote can only be seen as being vastly out of step with the core values of his constituency.

The bigger problem here though is that the new Republican leadership in Congress was not able to hold the caucus together and send a clear policy message on a key vote. It also reveals that, despite having suffered enormous losses in last November’s election, many Congressmen simply haven’t gotten the message that they aren’t doing in Washington what voters sent them there to do.

Unless the GOP develops bold new leadership backed by strong and clear principles such as those put forth by Newt Gingrich when Republicans last re-claimed control of Congress in 1994, the 2008 elections likely will see a further erosion of the party’s standing, not a restoration of the Republican majority.