Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint says the conservative battle against the establishment mentality of both parties still rages, but he says engaging in the battle of idea instead of rhetorical bomb-throwing is the smart way to get America on the path to recovery as soon as possible.
The former South Carolina senator also offered passionate comments about recent comments from prominent GOP figures on issues ranging from health care to immigration to marriage.
DeMint and Heritage Action were among the most vocal conservatives calling for government funding to be contingent upon the defunding of Obamacare last year. That pressure triggered several House votes calling for defunding or repealing or delaying certain aspects of the law. When those efforts died in the Senate, many Democrats, media outlets and voters blamed the GOP for the partial government shutdown.
Buoyed by the ensuing public relations nightmare of the Obamacare rollout, Republicans quickly maneuvered to craft a a continuing resolution that rolled some of the spending restraints imposed by sequestration while promising deficit reduction.
Heritage Action and other conservative groups urged Republicans to vote against the bill, causing House Speaker John Boehner to denounce their tactics.
“They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement,” said Boehner in December.
DeMint stands by the Heritage opposition to the bill, which passed easily, saying recent history shows those projected cuts may never happen.
“The bill that supposedly reduced the deficit actually boosts spending up in the next two years with the promise of sometime in the future reducing spending again. Of course that’s what the sequester did. It supposedly was going to reduce spending, but they didn’t want to reduce spending now. They keep promising it in the future,” said DeMint.
“If I hadn’t been seeing the same thing happen for 15 years while I was in the House and Senate, then I would say let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. But there is no doubt in my mind. They’re not going to stop spending unless the people of this country force them to. This debt is going to hurt us, it’s going to hurt future generations. Unfortunately, the people who are voting for the political figures who support this debt are the ones paying for it and that’s the young millennials, who are probably the most ripped off generation in history,” said DeMint, who says he’s not looking to pick any political fights but to promote policies rooted in freedom and limited government.
“We’re not Republican or Democrat at Heritage. We’re just focusing on the right ideas and we’re trying to get the country to move toward ideas such as decentralization and more competition between the states. If we can start the parade in that direction, I think the politics will follow. So we’re not going to spend so much time criticizing or beating Republicans over the head. I think if they see the country moving in the right direction, hopefully both parties might follow,” said DeMint.
Like any election year, Republicans of all stripes are hoping for unity heading into the fall campaign season. One major pillar of that unity was assumed to be lockstep opposition to Obamacare and a renewed promise to repeal it.
However, in just the past week, House Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul both indicated that the recent open enrollment of many Americans on the federal and state exchanges means full repeal is probably not doable. Both Rodgers and Paul reiterated their intense opposition to most of the law and vowed to work for massive reforms within its existing structure.
DeMint says that’s not good enough and believes the party can unite around a strategy that still includes repeal.
“We cannot have socialized medicine in this country. It hurts too many people. It’s already hurting people. It’s going to hurt our whole health care system,” he said. “You’re never going to throw people off a plan they’re on like this president is doing, but it would be relatively easy at this point to pass repeal, to give states flexibility, to allow the subsidies on the plans people are already on to phase out over a period of years or be replaced with something at the state level. There a lot of things we can to do to repeal and replace this with something that actually improves our health care system rather than destroys it.”
McMorris is not only taking heat from the right over her Obamacare comments but for also predicting an immigration reform bill would reach the House floor by August. It’s an issue that bitterly divides the right and DeMint cannot understand why this push is happening now.
“Why would a party that believes in limited government be looking at amnesty as a priority at a time when we need to fix our tax code. We need to figure out how to reduce spending. We need to fix Social Security and Medicare so they’re there for future generations,” said DeMint.
“Those are the big issues, yet the president is talking about how to manage what businesses pay their employees, fabricating wars on women and other things. Yet, we’ve got Republicans who are caving to corporate pressure on things like the (Export-Import) Bank, a big corporate welfare boondoggle. The whole amnesty bill is something doing corporate America’s bidding,” he said.
“That’s what frustrates us about politics and I don’t think America is interested in that any longer. I think you’re going to see a sea change in this election. We want to be a part of helping people understand what the right policies are right now where our country is. It’s certainly not what they’re talking about in either set of leadership in Washington right now,” said DeMint.
Another major point of debate inside the Republican Party is over the proper stance on the definition of marriage. The national party platform still defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and a majority of Americans who identify as Republicans agree. But with national polls trending towards acceptance of same-sex marriage, millennials overwhelmingly supporting that position, at least one state party changing its platform and a string of court decisions overturning traditional marriage laws, many in the party believe it’s time to change course.
DeMint says it’s important for conservatives and all Americans to understand the unique role traditional marriage plays in a stable society, but adds that he doesn’t want Washington mandating anything on the issue.
“The best environment to raise children is when there’s a mom and dad in the home and all the statistics show that. So this is not about people’s rights or marriage equality. This is about the best environment to raise children. The federal government has never regulated marriage before or defined it. It’s something that’s come from civil society, our churches and states have regulated marriage in order to protect it. And that’s where we need to leave it,” said DeMint.
“I would hope every state would recognize the importance of traditional marriage. But if not, let the states decide and let states that want to protect the millennia-old definition of marriage (do that). No one in Washington should be deciding that for everybody in the country,” said DeMint.