November 11, 2009

RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s promise that the GOP will “come after” incumbents who support President Barack Obama’s policies is inexcusable. I like Steele personally — he was an original co-chairman of the Republican Leadership Council along with former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth and me. He took on that role, he said, because he recognized that the party needed to be able to accommodate Republicans who might come out in different places on various issues. I wish he were still championing that message.

Lest we forget, people are elected to represent and serve their constituents — not a national political party’s agenda. Last week, on the other side of the aisle, 39 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against a Democratic president’s single most important policy goal. I cannot sit idly by and let the American people think there is not room for disagreement within the Republican Party.

Our party has recently lost plenty of seats in Congress; many of which were held by moderates who were driven out by constant attacks from within the party. Just last week in New York’s 23rd District, Republicans lost a congressional seat that had been in the party’s hands since the 1800s. They lost because the right-wing ideological purists ran a conservative candidate against the Republican on the ballot. The result: Another member of the Democratic Caucus in Washington. Republicans in the House may not have always agreed with her, but Dede Scozzafava would have voted Republican the majority of the time, and we lost that voice. After all, to make a difference, you have to be relevant.

Let me be clear: I am not here to express support for Obama’s proposed spending sprees. I personally disagree with the health care bill that passed in the House last week — it is not true reform, and it adds more government bureaucracy to an already administration-heavy industry. House leadership estimates of the costs involved appear to be naïve at best, and the alleged savings are extremely questionable. If there’s one thing governments rarely do it is foster efficiency; Obamacare is a recipe for more far reaching tentacles of the federal government when what we need is less government interference.

On these points, Steele and I agree. Health care and the stimulus bill passed earlier this year are classic liberal policies, and as Republicans, we should be proposing fiscally responsible, efficient alternatives to the challenges facing the economy and health care in particular. But to threaten retribution on Republicans for voting their conscience is unacceptable, and to scare them from engaging in the debate is irresponsible. The RNC chairman should not be in the business of going after our own — that’s a recipe for defeat and irrelevance.