Senator DeMint Remarks at Heritage Foundation President's Club Meeting
Mike, thank you for that kind introduction. The Heritage Foundation is one of our greatest resources as a conservative movement. The work that you and your colleagues do everyday is invaluable to those of us on Capitol Hill who understand that the federal government is not the source of our nation's greatness. It is the American people that make us great. And Heritage understands that. Thank you for that.
And thank all of you for being here today. I know full well that were it not for your support, Heritage would not have the resources to continue their mission.
I join all of you in that mission: to keep America the place "where freedom, opportunity and civil society flourish."
And thank you Jeb for being here today. I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to work with you in your capacity as leader of the Republican Study Committee. Like you, I have high hopes for the future as conservatives in both chambers work together to articulate a vision for America and her people.
Since the 2006 elections, Jeb and I have been meeting on a regular basis to explore ways for greater coordination. Using his perch at the RSC and mine at the Senate Steering Committee, in which we have access to the largest caucuses in our party, we have an opportunity to do something very special.
We have an opportunity to draw a very clear line in the sand. This is a fundamental battle between freedom and socialism. On one side is the conservative promise for America: more jobs, more prosperity, more security, more freedom, more opportunity and less government.
On the other side of that line is bigger government, less freedom, less security and more regulation. In short: a slippery slope toward socialism.
It is important to understand that this is not just talk. I truly believe that America right now is approaching a fork in the road. As a nation we are on the cusp of something big. Virtually every Democratic candidate for President is proposing sweeping changes in many policy areas that will take us closer to socialism and away from freedom.
You would be hard pressed to find one Democrat in Congress or running for President these days who is not in favor of government-run universal health care. As a Party, they are agreed on the liberal philosophy of legislating liberal policies from the bench. Only one very brave Democrat in the Senate understands the stakes in Iraq, and he was purged from the party. For all intents and purposes the Democratic Party stands unanimously opposed to addressing the looming entitlement crisis. Democrats are unified in their opposition to tax cuts and they have never met a government program that they don't like.
The extreme liberal left has succeeded in hijacking a once-respectable political Party, and our nation stands to be worse for the wear.
More than any Presidential election in my lifetime, 2008 will determine the course we chart for decades to come. Will we abdicate our role as a global leader? Will we give in to the siren songs of socialism's central planners?
Or will we claim our rightful heritage as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?
I sincerely hope it is the latter. But in the meantime, conservatives have work to do.
If conservatives are to defeat liberalism at the ballot box, we will have to again win the hearts and minds of the American people.
I understand that our brand is damaged right now. After more than a decade of Republican rule in Washington, the American voter has been left with the wrong impression of conservatives.
Sadly, this has happened because many of the revolutionaries who stormed the castle gates in 1994 decided over time that they liked the castle just fine. So they set up shop and began to put measures into place to ensure they would never have to leave. In short, we as a Party became more concerned with power than principle. This is not what we were elected to do, and we paid a dear price for it in 2006.
But now we must work quickly. 18 months stands between us and the next election. Conservatives cannot afford to waste any time. We must get our brand back, and that is our job in Congress.
I think one of the most important things conservatives in Congress can do in this regard is show the American people that we will be responsible with their money.
As some of you may know, I have been waging a steady war against the wasteful and corrupting practice of congressional earmarking. My colleague Senator Tom Coburn has correctly called earmarking the "gateway drug on the road to spending addiction." Earmarking lends itself to congressional power plays, quid pro quos and wasted tax dollars. It's past time to break this addiction and I am working hard to make this happen.
We've had initial success on this front. After the November elections, we successfully blocked over 10,000 wasteful earmarks that totaled more than $17 billion dollars. The pressure forced Democrats to take a timeout from earmarks in 2007. Then in January, we began to make some progress on reforming the system in Congress. I offered an amendment to the Senate Ethics and Lobby Reform bill that required 100 percent of congressional earmarks to be accounted for and transparent rather than just 5 percent in the underlying bill.
I did not expect my amendment to win approval in the Senate, but it did.
Before the Senate voted on my amendment, Senator Dick Durbin took the floor in opposition. Durbin made a motion to kill my amendment. His motion was supported by Majority Leader Harry Reid who argued that the language in the underlying bill was far superior to the language in my amendment. How Reid could argue this when it was clear that his amendment left 95 percent of earmarks unaccounted for is beyond me. But I have learned over the last few months that opponents of spending reform will turn summersaults to keep the status quo.
Fortunately, 9 Senate Democrats saw through the anti-reform efforts of their colleagues and cast their votes in favor of my amendment. The motion to kill my amendment was defeated by a bipartisan vote of 51-46. Traditionally, the Senate at this point in the process accepts the amendment but when I asked the Senate to do so Durbin and Reid objected still.
It was not until five days later that we were able to work this matter out in the Senate. But what happened over those five days had a direct impact on how the issue was resolved and I think is a model for how conservatives should get their brand back on spending.
Bloggers, liberal and conservative, led the charge for reform. Their numerous postings piqued the interest of the mainstream press and many editorial boards. Their message was all the same: reform now.
The pressure for reform became unbearable. Durbin and Reid both backed down. In fact, they did more than that. To save face, they offered changes to my amendment making it stronger!
It would be fair to say that the outcry from the blogosphere and the grassroots created a bidding war on reform in which both parties wanted to outdo the other. That is a climate that I was happy to see develop and one that we need to continue.
We won this skirmish because we were right on the issue and we had a broad base of support behind us. Conservatives need to continue to stand up in Congress and advocate plain and simple common sense reforms, but we cannot do that unless conservatives like yourselves rise up all across the nation and demand action.
We will not win a rational argument with our opponents, but we can win the argument with the American people. Despite the endless propaganda against conservative ideals, the American people know that the government is wasteful and incompetent, and in their hearts they long for independence and freedom. A recent CNN poll showed that most Americans still agree with Reagan's statement that "government is not the answer to our problems -- government is the problem." The same poll showed a majority of Americans thought that government was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.
I believe Americans will only believe the liberals when they can't trust the conservatives. We must re-establish our natural bond with the American people, and that means being clear and forceful about what we believe. And it means honoring the trust of the American people by keeping our promises.
The fact that conservatives are in a minority in the House and Senate is bad for the nation, but it should also be seen as an opportunity. As I said earlier, we now have the opportunity to draw a line in the sand. Every day that Democrats put liberal bills on the floor of the House and Senate is a day that conservatives should be pointing to the line in the sand.
A good example of this happened in March. Democrats this spring proposed the largest tax increase in American history. The Democrat budget assumed more than $700 billion in tax hikes. $700 billion dollars!
So what is the conservative alternative? The Republican Study Committee held a press conference announcing an American Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The text of this document is simple. It promises four things:
1. Taxpayers have a right to have a federal government that does not grow beyond their ability to pay for it.
2. Taxpayers have a right to receive back each dollar that they entrust to the government for their retirement.
3. Taxpayers have a right to expect the government to balance the budget without having their taxes raised.
4. Taxpayers have a right to a simple, fair tax code that they can understand.
To ensure that this document had bicameral conservative support, I attended the press conference on behalf of the Senate Steering Committee. I also intend to craft Senate amendments embodying these principles and offer them to bills on the Senate floor. House and Senate conservatives need to do more of this. We need to continue to coordinate our message and speak with one voice on the big issues of our time.
And we are.
Just a couple weeks ago conservatives from the House and Senate gathered out front of the Russell Senate office building to introduce the A-PLUS act. This sweeping reform of our education system will ensure that parents and children, not politicians and bureaucrats, are the beneficiaries in our education system.
This is how we will get our brand back. This is how we will win the hearts and minds of the conservative people. We will do it by juxtaposing our ideas with their's.
The conservative promise to America is unlimited opportunity and freedom, more jobs, more income, more choices, more security, more faith and more hope for the future. We offer more, not less. We can speak of the future with optimism because we know that our values and vision will make America an even greater nation in the future than it has been in the past.
This is a winning message. This is a message that the American people will embrace.
Again, thank you for inviting me today to be a part of this panel. I am confident that good things lie ahead for our movement and for our nation but we can't do it alone. We need your help and I thank you for all you do.