Sound advice for newly elected in congress from Sen. Jim DeMint
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) is no favorite of the country club establishment republicans in the senate. He has openly defied them on many issues, especially when it comes to earmarking (pork) and government spending. Along with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), he is one of the very few voices of reason in the senate. After yesterday’s elections, he will likely have a few more allies to help set the agenda.
In an open letter to the newly elected senators and representatives published in the Wall Street Journal, DeMint offered some advice on how not to be co-opted by the establishment republicans.
Congratulations to all the tea party-backed candidates who overcame a determined, partisan opposition to win their elections. The next campaign begins today. Because you must now overcome determined party insiders if this nation is going to be spared from fiscal disaster.
Many of the people who will be welcoming the new class of Senate conservatives to Washington never wanted you here in the first place. The establishment is much more likely to try to buy off your votes than to buy into your limited-government philosophy. Consider what former GOP senator-turned-lobbyist Trent Lott told the Washington Post earlier this year: “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.”
Don’t let them. Co-option is coercion. Washington operates on a favor-based economy and for every earmark, committee assignment or fancy title that’s given, payback is expected in return. The chits come due when the roll call votes begin. This is how big-spending bills that everyone always decries in public always manage to pass with just enough votes.
In other words, stick to your principles and avoid being sucked into the business as usual vortex. According to DeMint, here’s how that’s done:
- First, don’t request earmarks. If you do, you’ll vote for legislation based on what’s in it for your state, not what’s best for the country. You will lose the ability to criticize wasteful spending. And, if you dare to oppose other pork-barrel projects, the earmarkers will retaliate against you.
- Second, hire conservative staff. The old saying “personnel is policy” is true. You don’t need Beltway strategists and consultants running your office. Find people who share your values and believe in advancing the same policy reforms. Staff who are driven by conservative instincts can protect you from unwanted, outside influences when the pressure is on.
- Third, beware of committees. Committee assignments can be used as bait to make senators compromise on other matters. Rookie senators are often told they must be a member of a particular committee to advance a certain piece of legislation. This may be true in the House, but a senator can legislate on any matter from the Senate floor.
- Fourth, don’t seek titles. The word “Senator” before your name carries plenty of clout. All senators have the power to object to bad legislation, speak on the floor and offer amendments, regardless of how they are ranked in party hierarchy.
- Lastly, don’t let your re-election become more important than your job. You’ve campaigned long and hard for the opportunity to go to Washington and restore freedom in America. People will try to convince you to moderate conservative positions and break campaign promises, all in the name of winning the next race. Resist the temptation to do so. There are worse things than losing an election—like breaking your word to voters.
The only other thing I could think to add would be this: Get the job done then get the hell out. Entrenched incumbency is becoming a liability and the voting public (except democrats) are sick of it.
DeMint wrapped it up by saying this:
When you are in Washington, remember what the voters back home want—less government and more freedom. Millions of people are out of work, the government is going bankrupt and the country is trillions in debt. Americans have watched in disgust as billions of their tax dollars have been wasted on failed jobs plans, bailouts and takeovers. It’s up to us to stop the spending spree and make sure we have a government that benefits America instead of being a burden to it.
Tea party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country—not be co-opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today.
And yes, it will be an uphill battle with the republican establishment. Given the strength of the TEA Party and the mood of the country, it may take another election cycle to get rid of business as usual.