Rep. Denny Rehberg said that if last year seemed like a tough time in Congress, it likely will be worse this year, handing the blame to the president and saying it is the policies and philosophies of President Barack Obama and of Montana’s Democratic senators that led him to run against first-term Sen. Jon Tester, this year.
Rehberg said Friday that people ask him why he is giving up seniority, chairing an appropriations subcommittee and what is perceived to be a secure house seat to challenge Tester in the Senate.
“I say, ‘Barack Obama and Jon Tester have given me no choice. I have to try and change the direction of this country, ’” Rehberg said.
“America is an amazing country, ” he added. “It has an ability to overcome much of this, if government would, frankly, in my estimation, would just get out of the way. That is not Jon’s philosophy, that is not (the philosophy of Sen. Max Baucus), that is not Barack Obama’s philosophy. ”
He said the spending that has occurred under the tenure of Obama and the Democrats in Congress, including when they had the majority in both the Senate and House in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, cannot be sustained.
A spokesman for Tester took issue with a tax-and-spend portrayal of the senator.
“Jon’s policies include writing the veterans jobs bill — the only jobs bill to pass Congress last year — delisting wolves and working across party lines to put folks back to work in Montana’s forests, ” Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said this morning.
“Fortunately, Montanans still have a choice between a responsible farmer with a record that includes nearly $2 trillion in spending cuts, or Dennis Rehberg — who during the past 11 years in Congress gave himself five pay raises, became the Tea Party Caucus’ top earmarker, and squandered a $236 billion surplus, ” said Murphy.
Rehberg said the way to solve the nation’s economic problems is to cut taxes and regulation on small business. The House tried to do that in the last year, but faced opposition from the Senate, he said.
“We are going to continue trying to lessen the regulatory burden on small business, because, ultimately, this economy is going to be turned around by small business and not by government, ” Rehberg said.
Murphy said Tester’s record shows he does support small business.
“Jon has cut $1.4 trillion in taxes for middle class families and small businesses, ” Murphy said. “He just announced his tenth Small Business Opportunity Workshop to help give Montana businesses the tools they need to grow and prosper. And he successfully amended the food safety bill to shield Montana businesses from regulations they don't need and can't afford — something Dennis Rehberg voted against. ”
A spokeswoman for Baucus said he believes the government needs to do all that it can to support businesses in Montana and around the nation, by creating certainty in the tax code, approving good investments and cutting red tape while still protecting them and making sure they aren’t taken advantage of.
“This takes action, and that's why Max fought hard pass the budget control act that cut the debt by $1 trillion, save taxpayers $1 trillion by cutting fraud, waste and abuse in the health care system, and pass a small business jobs bill that cut taxes for Montana employers, along with trade agreements that make sure Montana entrepreneurs can compete on a level playing field with countries like Canada and the European Union, ”spokeswoman Kathy Weber said this morning. “And that's why Max is leading the fight right now to put more money in the pockets of customers that support Montana businesses by extending the payroll tax cut and pass a bipartisan highway bill that will put folks to work maintaining the roads and infrastructure that are Montana's lifeblood.
“Max knows small businesses are the drivers of job creation because he's been recognizing these folks all across the state with his economic engine awards, and Max will continue doing his part to support Montana employers who create jobs, ” she added.
Rehberg said that, while there is a purpose for the government, to provide things people cannot themselves, it must be in a limited capacity.
Rehberg said the money spent in the stimulus package pushed by Obama and voted for by both Tester and Baucus has added to the nation’s debt without doing any good.
Rehberg said that, after spending a trillion dollars, only 12 cents on the dollar went to some project that could be called stimulative, such as construction projects or other shovel-ready projects. The rest went to to spending, such as entitlements.
“Anybody in business will tell you that if you are going out and buying something for your business, it better get you towards making more money or it’s a pure expense, ” he said.
He said the drops in unemployment and improvements in economic indicators in recent months are not true long-term improvements. Because the economy has not turned around, those improvements will not last, Rehberg said.
The cost of the stimulus package and the health care reform, which he said also is a failure and has not controlled health care costs, are part of the increasing debt of the nation Rehberg said he wants to cut back.
Rehberg pointed out that from the start of the country to Jan. 1, 2007, the nation had incurred about $8 trillion in debt, which was manageable.
“But once they got control, from January 1, 2007, forward, it’s almost doubled, and you cannot continue to spend that much that quickly and hope to survive as a country, ” he said.
Rehberg said that, while the economic recession reducing tax revenues and increased the need for government services, the policies of the Democrats increased spending without helping solve the problem.
“It’s just going to be an interesting year, because there’s a lot of disruption going to occur, ” he said. “Of course, the politics of the presidential election is going to weigh heavily... on what happens in Congress. ”
Rehberg said Obama had kept the House and Senate from working together to compromise on issues like setting a budget and on raising the debt ceiling last fall.
“That’s, frankly, just not right, ” Rehberg said. “We really should make those financial decisions, the appropriations process, in the legislative branch and send it off to the president for his veto or not. ”
Some fallout from past actions also will impact Congress, he said. Rehberg said that he will have to craft four appropriations bills from his subcommittee, one if the Supreme Court rules the health care reform constitutional, another for if it is found unconstitutional, one for if sequestration due to the supercommittee’s inability last fall to agree on $1.2 trillion in cuts, and one for if the sequestered cuts do not occur.
“And so, it’s going to be a complicated year for me legislatively, to try to deal with all the various scenarios, ” Rehberg said. “And so, that’s why I’m just going to keep my door open and my phones on and hope people write and ask me out to the communities, and I will listen and learn and try and do the best I can to represent Montana in all those decisions. ”