Another Time for Choosing

By Congressman Mike Pence
Sep 29, 2005

The following are remarks by Congressman Mike Pence at a Young America's Foundation Capitol Hill event for interns on September 26, 2005.

I come today with a sense of privilege and gratitude. It's a privilege to speak to men and women from which will likely come the future of our Party and our nation. And gratitude to Young America's Foundation, who hosts me today, and who welcomed me last month to the home of my hero. A home nestled in the Santa Inez Mountains of California, Rancho del Cielo, the Reagan Ranch.

Thanks to YAF, my wife and our three small children spent a quiet day at the ranch. As we walked the grounds, toured the small house and stables, surveyed the sea and the valley between which this mountaintop home rests, I thought of the man Ronald Reagan. I thought of his Midwestern simplicity, his commitment to the ideals of our founders, and his human kindness even toward those with whom he differed.

As I looked across the landscape of the Reagan Ranch I knew why the President so often quoted that verse to visitors, "I look to the hills from where my help comes from...my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121)

Ronald Reagan's ideas inspired a nation and they inspire me still, and as I think of the example of President Reagan, and I think of the men and women with whom I serve in the 100-member House Republican Study Committee, I know that the baton has been passed to a new generation of conservative leaders.

Today in Congress, I am proud to report that a new generation of men and women aspire to do as those who went before, to do the work the American people have elected conservatives to do: to lead this country on behalf of limited government and traditional moral values.

But there is work to be done, with the national debt at nearly $8 trillion, over 26,000 for every American. In light of two consecutive sessions of Congress that saw a 52 percent increase in the Department of Education and the first new entitlement in 40 years, with record increases in federal spending in every branch of government.

Two years ago, I likened the conservative movement to a tall ship plying the open seas of a simpler time with a proud captain and a strong and accomplished crew, veering off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government Republicanism.

For despite the enormous conservative achievements of the past four years, I saw troubling signs that the ship of conservative governance was off course.

As the next presidential election approaches and new Republican leaders emerge, I believe as a movement, as a party, as a nation, we have come to another time for choosing.

While Ronald Reagan said famously, "government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" many Republicans see government increasingly as the solution to every social ill.

Our party and you, its rising generation of new leaders, face an age-old choice: A choice between the belief in limited government and tradition and the siren song of the central planner who says that "Big government is good government if it's our government."

Ronald Reagan spoke of this choice in his famed speech of October 1964: "You and I are told we must choose between a left or a right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream: the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism."

The 40th president summed up his generation's choice and ours as follows: "Whether we believe in our capacity for self government, or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them for ourselves."

Put another way, the conservative movement is at a crossroads in America. As the Republican Party did 40 years ago, today is another time for choosing whether we are committed to the ideals of limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values or whether we will continue to sacrifice those principles on the altar of preserving our governing majority.

So how do we find our way forward as the new governing majority?

How do we ensure that a second Bush term and the 109th Congress reflect our party's commitment to limited government?

The answer may well lie in a tale of maritime valor nearly a century ago:

On 19 January 1915, after five months at sea, Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance was beset by an early ice pack in the seas north of Antarctica, ending abruptly their expedition to that frozen continent. After nine months wedged in the floating ice, the Endurance was crushed and sank in October of 1915, leaving the crew to winter five months on the ice flows until escaping to Elephant Island in April of 1916.

With supplies dwindling, Shackleton made the decision to take a single lifeboat in an attempt to cross 800 miles of the inhospitable ocean in the world, under hurricane conditions, in an attempt to reach South Georgia Island and help.

In the course of 16 tumultuous days, where celestial navigation was nearly impossible due to storm conditions, Shackleton and his skeleton crew chipped at 15 inches of ice forming on the boat and made the landfall using an ancient form of navigation known as "dead reckoning."

In dead reckoning, the navigator finds his course by measuring the course and distance he has sailed from some fixed position. If the navigator has a fixed starting position, by tracking heading and speed he can calculate the exact location of the ship at any time but navigation depends on knowing the location of the known starting point.

Dead reckoning saved the crew of the Endurance and dead reckoning can save the course of Republican governance in the 21st century.

Conservatives must dead reckon off the starting point of what we know to be true about the nature of government and we won't lose our way:

- Conservatives know that government that governs least governs best.

- Conservatives know that as government expands, freedom contracts.

- Conservatives know that government should never do for a man what he can and should do for himself.

- And Conservatives know that societies are judged by how they deal with the most vulnerable: the unborn, the aged, the infirm and the disabled.

As we navigate off of these fixed historical truths, the way forward is clear. We must rediscover the principles of limited government that brought our party to power in 1980 and 1994 and put them into practice.

This requires that conservatives have an agenda, built on the principles of limited government, an agenda which comprises what conservatives must do and what conservatives must undo in the 109th Congress.

What Conservatives Must Do

First, House Conservatives must be prepared to rally support in the Congress and throughout the country for the President's agenda where it conforms with the ideals of limited government.

The good news is that all of the "Big Three" agenda items outlined by the President in his State of the Union Address are worthy of vigorous conservative support:

- Modernizing Social Security by introducing the option of personal savings accounts for younger Americans

- Overhauling the Internal Revenue Code, without a tax increase, to achieve a system that is simpler and fairer for taxpaying Americans

- Reforming the legal system to end the hidden tax that frivolous lawsuits place on our manufacturing and health care economies

These are the priorities of President George W. Bush and they deserve to be the priorities of conservatives in Washington.

In addition to these "Big Three" goals, House conservatives should put on the green eyeshades to put our fiscal house in order, beginning with dealing with the aftermath of the worst natural catastrophe in American history.

Katrina breaks my heart, when I think of the storm and its tragic aftermath, I think of that story from Matthew: "And the rains descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock." (Matthew 7:25)

For most Americans, when a tree falls on your house, first you tend to the wounded, then you start the clean up, then you sit down and figure out how you're going to pay for it.

Thanks to swift and compassionate leadership by the President and our leaders in Congress, we are tending to the wounded and have begun the cleanup. But now is the time for Congress to begin to figure out how to pay for it.

Last week, dozens of House conservatives offered a broad range of suggested budget cuts to begin the debate over finding offsets in government spending to cover the incredible costs of this storm. The Washington Times called it a good start. The Washington Post called it stupid. We must be on the right track.

The debate has been difficult, but it will go forward, because we have a Republican President and a Republican Congress. The Democratic Party has made it clear how they would respond to this tragedy: tax and spend, tax and spend.

To that end, there are other priorities once we work past this crisis:

-Pass additional tax cuts (as the Republican Congress has done every year since 1994) to ensure continued economic growth.

-Pass fundamental budget process reform including a line-item veto

-Uphold any Presidential veto on a spending bill that exceeds the budget

-Take on wasteful government spending and actually eliminate outdated government programs

And as Reagan taught us, conservatives know that freedom means more than just actuarial perfection, it means gains in moral freedom. Congress must take action to free the American people from the cultural consequences of activist federal courts who would impose their view of morality, patriotism and our most cherished institutions on our communities and families. To do this, we must:

- Support the next conservative nominee to the Supreme Court

- Pass the Federal Marriage Amendment by a growing majority

- Pass additional legislative limitations on abortion, including parental notification and strengthening informed consent

- Pass the Incapacitated Persons Act to ensure that disabled Americans have access to the federal courts when their unalienable right to life is threatened by government action

-Pass legislation limiting jurisdiction over our most cherished symbols and free expression of faith in the public square.

What Conservatives Must Undo

In addition to what we must do, there is legislation that conservatives must undo to advance the freedom agenda:

First, conservatives must undo the damage to the First Amendment by reforming the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

BCRA violated the 1st Amendment directive that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech."

The summer of 527's has given the advocates of government restrictions on speech the excuse to try it again. We must seize the opportunity to reform our campaign finance laws in a manner that empowers political parties and restores the freedom of speech.

Second, conservatives must undo the Medicare Prescription Drug entitlement. In the prescription drug bill, a Republican Congress added an unfunded Medicare liability equal to the entire Social Security obligation.

Congress must repeal the entitlement elements of the prescription drug program that threaten to bankrupt our nation in the next century and drive millions of retirees into Medicare for prescription drug coverage.

Third, conservatives must undo the expansion of the federal government's role in our local schools by reforming the No Child Left Behind Act to embrace the principle that education is a state and local function.

Congress must return education spending in Washington to the block grant strategy of welfare reform, promoting school choice and innovation through resources, not red tape.

These are difficult days in which we live: Threats at home and abroad, expansion of government and erosion of values. But I am not discouraged nor should you be.

For these are the times in which Americans have always been at their best. Like those that Abigail Adams celebrated in a letter to her young son:

"These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formedÖthe habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficultiesÖgreat necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life, and form the character of the hero and the statesman." (Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 19 Jan 1780)

So we have come to another time for choosing. And I have faith as other Americans of other times have done before. We will choose liberty.

I believe that we will choose liberty because despite the occasional difference of opinion, I believe in the leadership of this Congress, men and women of integrity and principle who work every day to bring the ideals of our founders into the well of the People's House.

I believe that we will choose liberty because I believe in the American people.

I believe that we will choose liberty because I believe in God.

I believe, as our founders did, as all of our greatest leaders did, that we are one nation under God, rich with a purpose yet to be fulfilled.

And I believe, with all my heart, that He who set this miracle of democracy on this, these wilderness shores, will give us the wisdom to know the right choice and the courage to make it as we choose the direction of our party and our nation in the 21st century.

For no matter how dark the day may seem, no matter how lost the cause of limited government and traditional moral values, we are confident knowing that the cause of freedom is not just our cause, but His: The author and finisher of our faith and the faith of our founders.

And so we say along with the poet:

"The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

We have promises to keep for future generations of Americans in preserving, protecting and defending the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

Thank you for the honor of addressing you and for all you do to keep the cause of conservative values alive in this shining city on the hill, this last best hope of earth, these United States of America. God bless you and the United States of America.

Rep. Mike Pence is chairman of the Republican Study Committee.