Reviewing Pence's Congressional career
Monday, October 31, 2011 9:02 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
COLUMBUS, Ind. - The Congressional career of Mike Pence has been marked almost from the beginning with drama, uncanny timing, obstinacy, and populism hewn to beliefs that extend from the Holy Bible to public life. While the man he hopes to succeed as Indiana governor has been known as “The Blade,” Pence could be called the “Columbus Cutlass” for his early assault on drunken Capitol Hill spending.
Some say he wears his religion on his sleeve, and at times can turn a Republican Lincoln Day dinner into a Right to Life event. Pence doesn’t simply wear his faith on his sleeve, he wears the entire Jesus jersey.
He is a career communicator that has allowed him to quickly move to the power strata and become the third ranking Republican in the U.S. House after challenging John Boehner for minority leader in the fallout of the 2006 elections. Two years later, it was Boehner who elevated Pence to Republican Conference Chairman because of his communication skills. His beliefs and oratory prompted a grassroots movement that attempted to draft him into a presidential run earlier this year before he opted for the governor’s race.
After two unsuccessful Congressional bids in 1988 and 1990 - the latter prompting his 1991 tome “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner” - Pence found himself on a Colorado mountain riding horses with his wife, Karen, in the summer of 1999. Would they seek Congress one more time? Karen Pence told supporters last Saturday that at that moment, the couple spotted two red-tailed hawks drafting in the wind above. They would run again, they decided, but “no flapping.” They would soar.
A little over two years later, with the twin World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in flames and word that Flight 93 was barreling toward the U.S. Capitol, Pence found himself in the building. “I was whisked away by the Capitol Police to the top floor of their headquarters, where I met with House and Senate leaders,” Pence recalled. “The moment I arrived, an officer informed us that an inbound airplane was 12 minutes out. The Congressional leaders in the room began to discuss options and capabilities as I stood by and watched the Capitol dome out the window. We waited. That was the longest 12 minutes of my life.”
Twelve years after his Congressional career commenced, Pence now hopes to become the next governor of Indiana. What telltales does his Congressional career give Hoosier voters?
During his campaign kick off speech, Pence made it clear that while he will have a lieutenant governor, God will be the co-pilot. “To restore our economy we must reaffirm our respect for the institutions and traditions that nurture the character of our people,” Pence said. “As your governor, I will stand for the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and the importance of organized religion in everyday life. To build an even better Indiana, we must recognize every day that our present crisis is not just economic, but moral.”
As Pence embarks on his gubernatorial campaign, he finds a jobless rate at a stubborn 8 percent. While he led the national fight to defund Planned Parenthood, it comes at a time when the Hoosier family is in atrophy. In 2009, some 42 percent of all births in the state came out of wedlock, up from 33 percent in 1998. Seven Indiana counties are among the top 50 in the nation in terms of divorce rates, according to 2008 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Wayne County ranks No. 1 with more than a 19 percent divorce rate while Madison and Floyd ranked sixth and seventh nationally. Indiana does not keep statewide divorce statistics.
In 2008, Prevent Child Abuse Indiana reported 90,177 cases with 24,808 substantiated. There were 53 child abuse deaths in 2006 and 36 in 2007, two years after Gov. Mitch Daniels added 400 more child protective services workers, an example of where government can be the solution. Indiana had a prison population of 24,008 and 116,431 on probation in 2010, one of the few states where the prison ranks are still rising. It ranked 29th in the U.S. in violent crime.
Indiana’s 2009 per capita personal income stood at $33,725 compared to $39,138 nationally. Twenty-two percent of Hoosier children live below the poverty line.
The ‘Frozen Man’
Pence’s Congressional career finds several delineation points with his own Republican Party. In 2001, he opposed President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative. In 2003, he was a rare Republican who opposed Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug plan, the largest entitlement expansion since the Great Society.
He explained to the Heritage Foundation in 2004, “Picture, if you will, a ship at sea. Shoulders back, a proud captain steps onto the sunlit deck of a tall ship plying the open seas of a simpler time. Its sails full and straining in the wind, its crew is tried and true, its hull, mast and keel are strong, but beneath the waves, almost imperceptibly, the rudder has veered off course and, in time, the captain and crew face unexpected peril. The conservative movement today is like that tall ship with its proud captain: strong and accomplished but veering off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government Republicanism.”
In his February 2004 CPAC speech that put him on a national trajectory, he explained, “Well, I first ran for Congress in 1988. An entrenched Democratic majority controlled Congress, frustrating President Reagan at every turn. I lost my bid in 1988 and again in 1990. There’s a saying in politics: ‘When you’re out, you’re out!’ Well, I was out for 10 years.
“And when I was finally elected to Congress in 2000, I was like the frozen man ... frozen before the Revolution, thawed after it was over ... a minuteman who showed up 10 years late! A decade ago, when I first ran for Congress, Republicans dreamed of eliminating the federal Department of Education and returning control of our schools to parents, communities and states.
“Ten years later, I am thawed out, take my oath of office in the 107th Congress and join the revolution and they hand me a copy of H.R. 1. One, as in our Republican Congress’ number one priority. The No Child Left Behind Act. The largest expansion of the federal Department of Education since it was created by President Jimmy Carter. In the end, I and about 30 House conservatives fought against the bill and were soundly defeated by our own colleagues. Our Reaganite beliefs that education was a local function were labeled ‘far right’ by Republicans and the President signed the bill into law with a smiling Ted Kennedy at his side. Conservatives were told to bear up, that this was the exception, not the rule.”
Pence continued: “And so, relieved to have that experience behind me, I anxiously awaited a new H.R. 1 for a new Congress, an H.R. 1 I could be proud of. And so at the onset of the 108th, I was handed H.R. 1, the number one priority, the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill. The largest new entitlement since 1965! To the frozen man, it was obvious. Another Congress. Another H.R.1.”
In his Heritage speech, Pence explained, “Actually this bill started out promising. The president asked Congress for a very limited program extending existing welfare benefits to seniors just above the poverty level where most of the one in four seniors without prescription drug coverage reside. Many conservatives, me included, were prepared to support this limited benefit. I told the President we shouldn’t make seniors choose between food, rent and prescription drugs; we were a better country than that. But instead of giving the president the limited benefit he requested, the Congress - the land of the $400 hammer - set sail to create the largest new entitlement since 1965: a massive one-size-fits-all entitlement that would place trillions in obligations on our children and grandchildren without giving any thought to how we were going to pay for it.”
Pence continued: “Conservatives in the House were faced with a difficult choice: oppose the president we love, or support the expansion of the big government we hate. In the end ... 25 rebels decided to make a stand for the principle of limited government. In the end the bill passed. The welfare state expanded. And the ship of conservative government veered off course.”
Pence’s speeches before CPAC and Heritage in 2004 were a breakthrough. In 2005 he was appointed to the Republican Study Committee. “That’s when Mike emerged fighting against Washington,” said campaign spokesman Matt Lloyd.
Opposing the auto bailout, farm subsidies
Pence has taken philosophical stands that go against the grain of his district. He steadfastly has refused to take earmarks. In 2008, he opposed the Farm Bill, all while his 6th CD leads the state in USDA subsidies.
“I am opposing the Farm Bill because I believe that it is fiscally irresponsible and does not contain the kind of reforms in American agriculture that these times demand,” Pence said. “This bill fails to reduce the overall amount of government subsidies to farmers, fails to encourage market-based reforms to the nation’s agricultural policy, and fails to promote international trade. It also fails to meet our nation’s farm policy needs within our own budget guidelines. The Farm Bill being considered today will actually increase the size and scope of government and will cost American taxpayers more than $650 billion over the next 10 years. In comparison to the previous Farm Bill, this bill will cost at least $65 billion per year as opposed to the $45 billion dollars before. It is, in effect, a 44 percent increase in spending.”
Pence said the 2008 bill would lead to higher food prices (and a case can be made that it has).
“It would allow farmers to lock in price-support payments at the lowest possible market price, and sell their crops at the highest price,” Pence explained. “The bill also ignores the plight of consumers facing skyrocketing food prices by making a bad sugar program worse. I come to the floor with a sense of melancholy about this, having been on the Agriculture Committee during the development of the last Farm Bill and coming from the great state of Indiana. It has always been my ambition to support Indiana farmers; to support them with federal policy that enables farmers to sustain the American cutting edge in global agriculture. But I’ve always sought to do that in a way that protects our federal budget and protects the American taxpayer at large.”
Two years later, he helped forge the Republican “Pledge” and vowed to cut $100 billion from the budget. He would tell a Tea Party rally last February, “It’s time to pick a fight” that is leading to the Aug. 2 showdown over the debt ceiling. “In the Pledge to America, Republicans said that we would save taxpayers at least $100 billion in the first year,” Pence said on Fox News last year. “And what is going on right now on Capitol Hill are negotiations among Republicans to keep our word and I believe that we will.”
On May 31, he vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling, saying, “With a $14 trillion national debt, the American people are fed up and want us to change the way Washington spends the people’s money. Because I cannot support increasing the debt ceiling without real and meaningful spending reductions and reforms, I will not support H.R. 1954.”
His stance helped set a showdown with President Obama by Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner’s Aug. 2 deadline.
And if you look at a Detroit Free Press map of auto supplier industries, a cluster can be found throughout east central Indiana. In November 2010, Pence journeyed to the Detroit Economic Club to explain why he opposed President Obama’s auto bailout via expedited bankruptcy.
“With more than 15 million people still looking for work, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have tried to borrow and spend the country back to prosperity resulting in trillion dollar plus annual deficits and a nearly $14 trillion national debt,” Pence began. “To this runaway federal spending they added a government takeover of health care, attempted a national energy tax and approved one bailout after another. In September 2008, when the Bush administration proposed that Congress give them $700 billion to bailout Wall Street, I was the first Member of Congress to publicly oppose it. I didn’t think we should do nothing, I just thought it was wrong to take $700 billion from Main Street to bailout bad decisions on Wall Street. I warned that passing TARP could fundamentally change the relationship between the government and the financial sector and so it has.”
Pence said that the Dodd-Frank bill “codified” the concept of “too big to fail” and “made taxpayers the first line of defense against failure.”
And on NBC’s Meet the Press in February 2009, Pence explained, “I strongly opposed the banking bailout last fall. I opposed the president of my own party and the leaders of my own party, because I don’t believe we can nationalize every bad mortgage in America. I don’t believe we can nationalize every failing bank in America.”
At Detroit in November 2010, Pence said, “And, even though I am proud of the American automotive tradition and Indiana’s ongoing role it, I even opposed bailing out GM and Chrysler,” Pence said in the belly of the beast. “While the administration has been busy making the point that GM is on the rebound and taxpayers are being repaid, most Americans know that it still would have been better if GM had gone through an orderly reorganization bankruptcy without taxpayer support. Taxpayer-funded bailouts are no substitute for economic policies that will create real consumer demand. I have no doubt that American automakers and autoworkers can compete and win in a growing American economy. To restore American exceptionalism, we must end all this Keynesian spending and get back to the practice of free market economics. The freedom to succeed must include the freedom to fail. The free market is what made America’s economy the greatest in the world, and we cannot falter in our willingness to defend it.”
Pence ardently opposed President Obama’s stimulus package, even though it has showered Indiana auto companies and electric component startups with money (including Cummins Engines last Friday).
Pence insisted in February 2009 after Obama visited Elkhart, “This is an argument about what would be the best solution to deal with these challenging economic times. Republicans oppose this bill because this back room deal is simply a long wish list of big government spending that won’t work to put Americans back to work. It won’t create jobs. The only thing it will stimulate is more government and more debt. And it will probably do more harm than good.”
Obama acknowledged at Elkhart that if the stimulus doesn’t work, he will likely be a one-term president.
At Detroit, Pence pushed for a “spending limit amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, reasoning, “Since World War II the federal government has operated on an average of just under 20 percent of gross domestic product. But, in the past three years, federal spending has climbed to nearly 25 percent of GDP. Left unchecked, and accounting for no new programs, federal spending will reach 50 percent of GDP by 2055. We should remember what Ronald Reagan said, ‘No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size.’ We must have a mechanism that forces Washington as a whole to make the hard choices necessary to reform our nation’s addiction to big spending and unsustainable entitlements. By limiting federal spending to 20 percent of our nation’s economy in the Constitution, except for certain conditions such as a war, we will create a framework for this and future Congresses to live within our means and have the incentive to grow the economy.”
Pence then defined an “incentive-based growth agenda” that included sound monetary policy, tax relief and reform, access to American energy, regulatory reform and trade. “START. You could call it a prescription for a fresh start for the American economy,” Pence explained. “Some of these are new ideas. Some are timeless. Taken together, they will put us back on track for job creation and prosperity.”
In pushing for “sound monetary policy,’ Pence explained, “The American people know we cannot borrow and spend our way back to a growing America and sent a deafening message of restraint to Washington on Nov. 2. But it doesn’t look like the administration got the message and neither did the Federal Reserve. During 2008 and 2009, the Fed pushed well over $1 trillion into the financial system in an attempt to rein in unemployment through more government stimulus, yet the national jobless rate has been well above 9 percent for a record-tying 18 straight months. The Fed’s second and latest round of ‘quantitative easing,’ known as QE2, actually seeks inflation in an effort to bring down unemployment. Printing money is no substitute for sound fiscal policy. And while there is no guarantee that this policy will succeed in reducing unemployment, it is near certain that the value of the dollar will be diluted. As economist Larry Kudlow says, ‘the Fed can print more money, but it can’t print jobs.’”
As for tax policy, Pence pushed for permanent extension of all of the Bush tax cuts, even though they have contributed heavily to the towering budget deficits he eschews and he called for a Tea Party favorite in Detroit - the flat tax. “Preventing a tax increase is not enough,” Pence explained. “If the current tax rates were sufficient to get this economy moving again, it would be and it’s not. The time has come for Congress and this administration to take bold action to simplify our tax system and lower people’s taxes. The tax code has grown too large and complex. It has 3.8 million words. The forms are dizzying. And nothing about it seems fair.”
“People are taxed on their income,” Pence said. “Then after they pay their bills, they take the leftover money and put it into savings or an investment. If their savings or investments make any money, they are taxed again. If they buy stock in a company, the company pays taxes on its profits. Then it takes those profits and provides a dividend to shareholders and it is taxed again. The final outrage occurs at death, when your estate pays taxes once again on all the money you’d previously paid taxes on while living. To promote income, savings and investment, we need a system built on the principle that income should be taxed once and just once. We need a fair and effective method of taxation that will make doing your taxes easy and remove the confusion of the present tax code.”
Noting that Americans spend 7.6 billion hours preparing their annual taxes, Pence quoted Dr. Art Laffer: “The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over 10 years than if we maintain the status quo. That means each person in this country would be approximately $4,200 wealthier. And that’s just from simplifying our tax code by half. But we can do better than that. How about a system where you could file your taxes on a Blackberry, or a system where you might even be able to file a return with 140 characters or less? How would you like to tweet your taxes?”
“If you are a business, you pay tax on your gross income for the year minus 100 percent of your expenses: rent, wages, fuel, supplies, etc. Depreciation is no longer necessary because the entire cost of investment spending can be deducted in one year,” Pence said. “The flat tax eliminates all of the credits and deductions and special preferences and tax loopholes that Congress and an army of lobbyists have built into the tax code over time. These fuel special interests and generally benefit one person, business or industry over another. Our tax system should not pick winners and losers, but should treat every business, small and large, with the same basic rules.”
Pence also called for regulatory reform. “I believe that all new regulations that impose an economic cost on families, businesses or local governments should be subject to a regulatory ‘pay-go’ procedure before implementation. If government wants to issue a new regulation that is going to impose an economic cost, then it needs to reduce another regulatory burden elsewhere so that there is no new burden on the economy. Some regulations, and some bills that have passed Congress, however, impose costs that are too great and can never be offset and must be repealed. ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, TARP, and Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley fall in that category. Also, Congress must override the EPA’s endangerment finding so that regulatory Cap-and-Trade cannot be forced on the American people against their will.”
Pence recalled a 1977 backpacking trip through Europe when they arrived in West Berlin. “I will never forget the day I walked past the barbed wire and tank traps that barricaded the Berlin Wall, passed through security at Checkpoint Charlie and took my first steps into a wider understanding of the world,” Pence said. “Standing in West Berlin I saw the energy, bustling streets and glass towers of a big city built on freedom and free market economics. The strassen were filled with stores, people, and bustling commerce. When we crossed through Checkpoint Charlie, past the harsh glare of uniformed East German guards, everything changed. The excitement and energy of West Berlin gave way to the dour reality of Soviet-controlled East Berlin. The buildings were drab, concrete block tenement structures. Damage from World War II was still evident in many buildings. The cars were vintage 1950s and people all seemed to be wearing the same colorless apparel. It was a gray, harsh reality. In that moment, I saw the difference between East and West, between a free market economy and a planned economy run by the state. Freedom and personal responsibility contrasted with socialism and decline.
“The problem with our economy today is that, after years of runaway spending and growth of government under both political parties, America is on that wall between West and East. No longer the vibrant free market that built cities like Detroit but not yet overtaken by the policies that have engulfed Europe in a sea of debt and mediocrity. To restore American economic exceptionalism, we have to decide that we believe in it again and turn and pursue a free market economy again with all our hearts.”
Fighting the social battles
Hoosier Republicans found themselves in an extraordinary dual track between their two stars. In the spring of 2010, Gov. Daniels called for a “truce” on social issues, arguing that those battles could be delayed until the nation’s fiscal order was restored.
Pence saw no need to rest when it came to strive for what he calls “moral clarity.” He was an ardent backer of President Bush’s call for a Constitutional amendment to “protect marriage.” He reasoned in 2005, “The President rightly called marriage, ‘the most enduring human institution,’ and so it is. Marriage was ordained by God, confirmed by law, is the glue of the American family and the safest harbor for children.”
But the capstone of his social activism came early this year when Pence pushed for a defunding of Planned Parenthood.
“I believe that ending an innocent human life is morally wrong,” Pence explained. “I also believe it is morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use them to fund organizations that provide and promote abortion-like Planned Parenthood of America. The headlines and years of investigations speak for themselves. In 2002, Planned Parenthood was found civilly liable in Arizona for failure to report statutory rape. In 2008 it violated reporting laws in Indiana and California. In 2009, it instructed a girl in Tennessee to lie about her age so she could get an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. Recently in California, Washington, New Jersey, and New York, Planned Parenthood clinics have been accused of fraudulent accounting or overbilling practices. And last week, undercover videos showed Planned Parenthood employees apparently willing to aid human sex traffickers by coaching them on how to falsify documents and secure secret abortions for their underage prostitutes.”
Pence explained, “As the father of two teenage daughters, there are no words strong enough to portray my contempt of this pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by Planned Parenthood.”
In proposing his Pence amendment, the congressman said, “Let me be clear, my amendment would not cut funding for health services. It would simply block those funds already in the bill from subsidizing America’s largest abortion provider.”
While Congressional votes to defund Planned Parenthood via the “Pence Amendment” failed, freshman State Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, amended a bill in the Senate to do the same in Indiana and it passed into law with Gov. Daniels’ signature. Critics maintain that the Indiana laws have cut into health services as Planned Parenthood has announced plans to close several health clinics now that Medicaid funds have been cut. The Obama administration signaled its intent to set aside the Indiana law, putting Pence’s gubernatorial campaign on a confrontational path with President Obama.
Betty Cockrum, CEO of Indiana Planned Parenthood, called the passage and signing of HB 1210 “unconscionable and unspeakable. We will now suffer the consequences of lawmakers who have no regard for fact-based decision making and sound public health policy. As many as 22,000 low-income Hoosiers will lose their medical home. Countless patients will find themselves without access to lifesaving tests to avoid the tragic outcomes of cervical and breast cancer and epidemic sexually transmitted disease here in Indiana. More unintended pregnancy means increased Medicaid spending. Indiana already has one of the highest rates of Medicaid-covered births. The cost is already $450 million. Logic would suggest that those births will lead to Medicaid-covered dependents for perhaps 18 years. The lawmakers have outdone themselves in contributing further to the cycle of poverty here in Indiana, where 22 percent of our children live below the poverty line.”
Many believed that Pence would usher in an era of the most profound abortion restrictions in the nation, but they actually preceded him, though he was a figure for inspiration of the Right to Life set.
Pence often sees issues through the abortion prism. He voted against a bankruptcy reform bill during his first term because he objected to a provision on abortion.
And he was the only House Republican to become a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the McCain-Feingold campaign reform laws. Pence said that McCain was “so deep in bed with the Democrats that his feet are coming out of the bottom of the sheets.”
Pence has also supported the Iraq War Resolution in 2002 and both the Iraq and Afghan surges. Just after the height of the Iraq insurgency against the U.S., Pence said on April 1, 2007, after touring the Shorja market with Sen. John McCain and Gen. David Petraeus, “And so it went, up and down the street, in between tents and tables, squeezing past pedestrians to inspect the offerings in one booth after another, we milled around this marketplace in downtown Baghdad for more than an hour. I told reporters afterward that it was just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime. I didn’t mean that Baghdad was as safe as the Bargersville Flea Market; I just meant that was what it looked and felt like … lots of people, lots of booths and a friendly relaxed atmosphere.” Three months earlier a bombing there had killed 28 people.
Pence has supported the Patriot Act. He is an ardent supporter of Israel. He is also a proponent of the Fairness Doctrine on behalf of the press.
Gary Bauer of the American Family Council said of Pence that he has a “Reagan-like ability to bring economic, national security and social conservatives together in a winning coalition.”
Governor and beyond
At his campaign kickoff in Columbus last Saturday, emcee Dave Wilson noted how Pence came close to running for president this year, opting instead for at least a chance at a term as Indiana governor. “When Mike Pence speaks you know it’s backed up by the Bible,” Wilson said.
“He’s been in Congress 10 years and has rocketed to the top,” said WIBC talk host Greg Garrison. “He is so focused.”
Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine called Pence “a born leader.”
Former congressman Mike Sodrel said Pence’s strength is “No. 1, he’s somebody who keeps his word. He says what he means and means what he says. When I talk to people on the street, the thing I hear more than any other that you can’t trust politicians. They say they’ll say one thing and then do another. That’s not the case with Mike Pence.”
U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman recalled sitting with Pence on a flight from Washington, and finding him “with a Bible on his lap. He’s a man of faith,” Stutzman said. “That’s the kind of leader we need.”
And Stutzman added that “some of the best advice he gave me is, ‘When working with Democrats, keep smiling. It makes them nervous.’”
U.S. Rep. Larry Buchson, like Stutzman a freshman, lauded Pence for his “tireless efforts” on behalf of Congressional and legislative Republicans in 2010, allowing the GOP to retake the Indiana House where historic education reforms and abortion restrictions passed this year. “He’s a leading voice in the Republican conference and he’s a tireless protector for the life of the unborn,” Bucshon said. “Mike Pence is a good Christian, a great husband and father, and he’ll be a great leader of this state.”
Twenty years after Pence forged a name for himself statewide over the radio waves and on TV, he is poised to make a grassroots run for governor, and should he find success there, will take aim at a place called the White House.