Pombo's Bogeyman: Liberal Republicans
In an e-mail to me, VPO alerted me that Pombo has been trying to blame, incredibly, “liberal Republicans” for his problems with the budget. This raises the two separate issues. First, we need to notice Pombo’s use of language to paint moderate Republicans as liberals when they oppose his extremist agenda. Secondly, we need to ask whether it is true that the opposition came from moderate Republicans.
Here’s the relevant quote, which come from this article in the Washington Post:
“The question for the House leadership is: How far do you go in order to get the liberal Republican vote? Obviously, they pushed it too far," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.), who estimated that he and more than 25 other Republicans considered rejecting the budget once the leadership removed provisions to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and offshore. "When they pulled it out, [moderates] still didn't support it. And a bunch of guys elsewhere in the country said, 'Wait a minute. What happened to the energy?' "
We need to remember that “liberal” is a four-letter word for a lot of Republicans. So this label is hardly neutral. Furthermore, by labeling his Republican opponents “liberal,” Pombo tacitly sets himself up as conservative. If he had instead labeled his opponents as “moderate,” which seems to be both more natural and more neutral, he would have tacitly identified himself as a non-moderate, and thereby acknowledged on some level his ideological extremism.
Let’s not forget that only about twenty-five Republicans opposed the budget bill when it included the drilling provisions. This is roughly comparable to the approximately twenty-five Republicans who, according to Pombo himself, will oppose the budget unless it contains the initial drilling provisions. So if this fight is understood as between ideological wings of the House Republican caucus, Pombo would be placing himself in the ninetieth percentile of Republicans in terms of conservatism. Or to put it another way, if this is simply a battle between ideological strains of Republicans, then Pombo is donning the uber-wingnut mantel in a caucus chalk full of wingnuts.
Certainly, the next time Pombo or his puppet Brian Kennedy tries to deride environmental groups as “liberal special interest groups” we might remind the media that Pombo even regards people who vote with Tom Delay ninety percent of the time as liberal.
Of course, all of this makes sense only if we take Pombo at his word. The bigger picture is that Pombo is only partially accurate when he implies that the Republicans who opposed the budget did so out of ideological reasons. It is true, for example, that the moderate Republican faction known as the House Tuesday Group (also known by the name of the organization it spawned called Republican Main Street Partnership) has played a key role in organizing opposition to the budget bill when it included the ANWR and offshore drilling provisions.
What has not gotten much notice, however, is how varied the opposition to this budget has been. For example, the offshore drilling provisions were opposed by five Republicans members of Congress from Florida. They include the illustrious notorious Katherine Harris, who is not by any stretch of the imagination a moderate Republican. Furthermore, according to this post at Townhall.com, the budget was even opposed by James “Lights Out” Sensenbrenner, the guy who voted against the Katrina relief package.
Admittedly, I am having difficulty nailing down who exactly opposed the budget bill, when, and for what reasons. (Besides the list on Townhall.com, I have come across this article from The Hill). But everything I have seen indicates that the opposition did not come simply from moderate Republicans unhappy with the energy provisions. Rather, it looks like Pombo is framing the debate as ideological in order to gloss over the substantive reasons that even his erstwhile ideological allies could have for opposing the provisions that Pombo is championing.
Furthermore, by focusing on energy policy, Pombo implicitly groups the moderate Republicans along with the Democrats in opposition. Although it is true that many Democrats opposed the environmentally ruinous drilling provisions Pombo had in the budget, the real Democratic opposition doubtlessly stems from the cuts to social services, education, and the like.
Not a single Democrat was going to vote for the budget bill. That’s an important fact not to let slip away. The united Democratic opposition set the groundwork for the Republican defection on these bills. By focusing only on energy policy, Pombo and the Republicans are allowed to ignore that entire aspect of the story. We should not follow Pombo’s lead in this. We should keep this fact before our eyes.