In New Climate, Conservatives Need Strength of Ideas, Says GOP Whip

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - Secure the border! Halt runaway federal spending! And don't stop there!

Give individuals, not government bureaucrats, control over healthcare, and trust in the American people to make their own financial decisions, free of federal interference.

That's the message Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) says he hears when he leaves Washington and mixes with constituents back home. It also comprised the central theme of his wide-ranging presentation Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation.

Although conservatives face a "new reality" on Capitol Hill, Blunt - the House minority whip - told the audience it was possible to lay the groundwork for a new revolution by focusing on key policy initiatives that relate to America's founding principles -- "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Conservative lawmakers can find ways to win over the American people, even when they lack the votes and despite congressional rules working to their disadvantage, he said.

"Too often when we were in the majority, the need to govern became more important than the results of our work," Blunt said. "Winning the argument based on the strength of our ideas has become increasingly important."

Health Care

Blunt took issue with the idea of a universal, government-run healthcare system, as favored by liberals among the 2008 presidential hopefuls.

"When the government pays the bill, the government makes the rules," he said. "For liberals, the predictable answer to rising costs, uneven access and diminishing quality in our nation's healthcare system is to spend more money and issue more mandates and regulations."

The existing Medicare system offers proof that universal coverage does not work, Blunt argued. The payment doctors receive under the existing system often does not correspond with actual costs of service, but instead flows from the dictates of a government formula, he said.

"When the government sets the competition for certain procedures too low, you get rationing of care," he said. "When the government sets the price too high for another procedure, seniors find themselves getting tests and treatments they don't need."

Blunt favors innovation in current law that would combine a tax deduction with a tax credit for individual health insurance. He said such a step would build on the success of Medicare Part D and Health Savings Accounts. The competition generated through the new Medicare prescription drug program has already driven down costs, he contended.

Cut spending, reduce government
Efforts to curtail the size, scope and influence of the federal government often meet with frustration, Blunt acknowledged. Even so, he said he believes it will be possible to achieve some measure of success soon.

"Three generations of post-New Deal efforts to rein in the size of the federal government have resulted in short bursts of success sandwiched between long periods of disappointments, and it's not hard to understand why," Blunt said.

"Entrenched special interests" that protect government programs can often bring more energy and resources to bear than average members of the public who are footing the bill for multiple programs, he added.

To reverse that trend, Blunt said no new program should be launched before existing programs are identified that can be eliminated to offset the costs.

The debate that would result from such a "pay-go system" would help to bring more ineffective programs under scrutiny, he said.

To achieve energy independence, Blunt said the U.S. must tap into natural resources at home.

"We have this unbelievable reliance on parts of the world that don't like us," he said. "You can't reduce energy dependence on foreign sources when you refuse to tap into our own supplies."

He called for accelerated domestic fossil fuel production, oil and gas production and the construction of new nuclear power plants.

Blunt also touched on the subject of illegal immigration and criticized the Senate for crafting legislation that he said did not adequately address border security.

"Securing the border is part of defending the country," he said. "Sadly the federal government has not been up to the task."

On foreign policy, Blunt expressed support for a "thoughtful and aggressive' strategy against terror and identified Iraq as the "front line" in the battle.

"The greatest paradox in American politics is that those who support an ever-expanding role for the federal government and believe the federal government should be the arbiter of the outcome, the distributor of wealth and an engineer of social good, reject the idea that the same government should be given the resources and support it needs to keep us safe from attack," he declared.

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