Washington (CNSNews.com) - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay criticized likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain - and by extension some of the more conservative members of Congress - by calling McCain's 2003 vote against the Medicare prescription drug plan a non-conservative vote.
DeLay made his remarks in an interview with Cybercast News Service at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
While in Congress, DeLay had helped quashed a rebellion by House conservatives, who tried to defeat the prescription plan then being promoted by President Bush.
"I'm very proud of the Medicare bill," DeLay told Cybercast News Service. "? We took a welfare state program and applied conservative principles to it." Listen to Audio
Asked if McCain's vote against the Medicare expansion bill was un-conservative, DeLay responded, "Yes, it was, as a matter of fact. It was taking the easy way out."
DeLay is among many Republicans uncomfortable with having the moderate McCain as the party's probable nominee for 2008. However, McCain was joined by some of the most conservative members of Congress in his opposition to the Medicare prescription drug plan.
In the Senate, McCain was one of just eight Republicans to vote against the Medicare bill. He was joined by Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado, Trent Lott of Mississippi, John Sununu and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, John Ensign of Nevada, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas.
In the House, only 25 Republicans voted against the measure, most of them conservative stalwarts. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, also a GOP presidential candidate, opposed the Medicare bill. Others opposed included Reps. John Shadegg and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Pence and Dan Burton of Indiana, and then-Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
Ensign, DeMint, Flake, Shadegg and Pence each have 100 percent conservative voting records, according to the American Conservative Union (ACU) scorecard.
In January, U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker told Congress that the $8.4 trillion in unfunded liability in the Medicare prescription drug program actually exceeds that of the $6.8 trillion unfunded liability in Social Security.
Nonetheless, DeLay insisted that expanding Medicare was a conservative program.
"We took a welfare state program that would spend $40,000 on cutting someone's feet off because of diabetes but wouldn't spend $100 a month to save those people. That is good conservative economics," DeLay said in the interview. Listen to Audio
"And we instituted health savings accounts, which is a conservative issue," DeLay continued. "We applied choice, competition, free market principles to a welfare state program. If we had been held to the same criticism on welfare reform, we would have never gotten welfare reform either."
DeLay, who resigned from the House in 2006 after being indicted on campaign finance- related charges in Texas, has been one of the most vocal critics of McCain on the right. But DeLay himself has many critics from the right as well. Besides the Medicare plan, these critics point to runaway pork barrel spending and a cozy relationship between the GOP Congress and lobbyists that flourished under DeLay's watch.
That record prompted four members of the ACU board to resign after DeLay was appointed to the board last year.
"I agree we let the earmarks get out of hand," DeLay said. "I do not agree we did not take a conservative, principled approach to everything including Medicare." Listen to Audio
Though many conservatives speaking at this past weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference urged support for McCain, DeLay said he is a conservative before he's a Republican and has to hear more from the presumptive nominee.
"If you want to stop Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, then it's going to take the conservatives to do that," DeLay said. "I'm sure John McCain understands that. In reaching out to conservatives, I want to make sure the conservative voice is being heard, being addressed, our questions being answered, and then we'll see."
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