Montana’s sole member of the U.S. House, Rep. Denny Rehberg said in a telephone press conference Wednesday that he thinks the rest of this year’s congressional session, as well as next year’s, is likely to be acrimonious.
“I think you’re going to see a more contentious Democratic minority,” said Rehberg, a Billings Republican.
Rehberg handily won his sixth term as U.S. representative, taking 60.32 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 general election.
His challengers, Democrat Dennis McDonald of Melville and Libertarian Mike Fellows of Missoula, respectively took 33.78 percent and 5.73 percent of the vote.
His victory came amongst a major pickup of seats by Republicans in the election, with the GOP taking control of the House and narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Most returning Democrats are liberal
But Rehberg said many returning Democrats are very liberal, and he doubts the minority will be willing to compromise with the Republicans. Many conservative Democrats, such as blue-dog Jim Marshall, D-Ga, lost their bid for re-election while more liberal Democrats such as outgoing Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, are returning in the minority.
“I would have traded Jim Marshall for Nancy Pelosi,” Rehberg said, adding that he believes Marshall better represented what Montana needs.
He added that he is not certain that the workings of the House truly are more contentious — with modern media, people see more of what happens there.
“It’s just more reported, more debated,” Rehberg said. “People get to see it more, and I think that’s a good thing,”
He said one of his goals is to try to get a budget passed as soon as possible, ending the continuing resolution maintaining programs since the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year.
Rehberg said he wants to take the appropriations bills back to committee to debate them and bring them once again to the floor, rather than passing a sweeping omnibus spending bill as has been common in recent years. Rehberg said those omnibus bills have led to national spending being debated behind closed doors.
“We’ve got the time, we’ve got the desire,” he said. “There’s no reason to do what the public rejected in the election.”
Vows to continue work on water projects
Rehberg said he will continue to work for Montana projects, such as the water projects being constructed in north-central Montana, the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water Project, and near Fort Peck, the Dry Prairie Regional Water Project. Those projects always are in danger of losing funding, he said.
He stood by his pledge to stop earmarking money, saying projects such as those have been authorized and vetted by Congress and the lack is in the budgets of the presidents.
Rehberg said both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have failed to fund projects Congress has authorized and it then is up to the legislators to find ways to fund them.
“It’s not right,” Rehberg said. “It’s not what I think is in the American spirit of earmarks.”
His opposition is to funding “airdropped in the middle of the night,” he said, adding that the next Congress needs to define exactly what truly is an earmark.
Rehberg said he does not plan to seek leadership positions in the next Congress because that could lead to his stepping back from positions he already has.
Rehberg sits on the House Appropriations Committee, and is on three subcommittees there: Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; Water and Energy; and State, Foreign Operations, which oversees appropriations for the Department of State. To take a subcommittee chairmanship, he said, he probably would have to give up his membership on the Energy and Labor subcommittees and move to one less directly involved in Montana issues.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Rehberg said.
He said his joining the tea party caucus in the House was due to his agreeing with one of that party’s main agendas: ending deficit spending. He said he will continue to advocate for zero-base budgeting, a line-item veto and a balanced budget amendment, and will work with anyone in the House who will work with him on those — and other issues.
“The quickest way I can see dealing with tea party issues is spending reform,” Rehberg said.