By Gabriel Nelson
December 13, 2010

Christine Todd Whitman, who led U.S. EPA for the first two years of the George W. Bush presidency, is warning her Republican colleagues not to read too much into last month’s election as they embark on a push to reject the Obama administration’s policies.

Whitman, a Republican who was governor of New Jersey before joining EPA in 2001, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria there will be consequences if the GOP is too aggressive in its efforts to repeal health care reform and other laws put in place by the Democrats. Though voters might have some qualms about parts of the new rules for health care, she said, the idea behind the reform package is still popular.

“I think they’re misinterpreting this election,” Whitman said during the interview, which aired yesterday. “This election, everybody suddenly didn’t become a Republican. They were just saying, ‘Obama’s gone too far to the left; this stuff is happening too fast; it’s too much big government.’ And I think the biggest mistake Republicans can make is just standing up and saying ‘no’ to everything.”

Whitman’s words are a warning to the incoming leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is drawing up plans for an assault on health care reform, environmental regulations and other federal forays into the economy. Incoming Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and his future lieutenants have focused their fire on EPA’s new rules, which they describe as too costly for the current economic climate.

Experts say they will need to stop history from repeating itself. The last time the Republicans swept into power in Congress, in 1994, they found themselves forced to relent on their challenges to environmental regulations when President Clinton vetoed their budget and brought the government to the verge of a shutdown (E&E Daily, Dec. 1).

Republicans would be wise to avoid battles over funding during the next Congress, Whitman said. Though the administration and the Democratic Congress have been “overreaching” with their policies, she said, it’s not possible to stop everything.

“This idea that compromise is somehow defeat — actually, it’s the antithesis of how this country was founded,” she said.

After leaving EPA in 2003, Whitman started the Whitman Strategy Group, an environmental consulting and lobbying firm. She is also co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, an industry-funded advocacy group that is pushing for increased use of nuclear energy.