Tom DeLay, the former majority leader in the US House of Representatives, issued an apology of sorts yesterday, acknowledging that Republicans’ recent record on controlling spending had not been as strong as it should be and pledging a renewed commitment to fiscal discipline.
Mr DeLay’s unusually contrite remarks came as Republicans seek to reassert their belief in limiting the size of government in the face of deep deficits and intense intra-party squabbling over spending.
They also showed the central role Mr DeLay hopes to play within the Republican party and the conservative movement, in spite of his recent indictment on money laundering charges, which forced him to relinquish his leadership post.
“The time has come to set aside our intra-party differences, to rally around our core, unifying principles,” he said. “No more distractions, no more diversions.”
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank that has been among the critics of the Republicans’ spending record, Mr DeLay boasted about his party’s record on tax cuts. “Since 1995, House Republicans have voted to cut taxes every year and not once voted to increase them.
“Our record on spending has not been as consistent, unfortunately.” He blamed the administration of Bill Clinton for standing in the way of the Republican agenda for six years, and said that since then, the focus had been on national and homeland security as well as recovery from the September 11 terror attacks.
“These things needed doing, and they needed doing quickly,” Mr DeLay said. “Yes they were expensive, but they were necessary and time-sensitive, and, given the circumstances, we were right to err on the side of security over thrift.”
But Mr DeLay said this year Republicans had “an obligation to return to basics”. He pointed to the $50bn in spending cuts under debate in the House, and pledged to pursue tough annual reductions to mandatory and discretionary programmes in the future.
“It’s time for Republicans to be Republicans again, and do what the American people know we are most capable of doing,” Mr DeLay declared.
But on Capitol Hill, Republican leaders in the House were still struggling to win support for the $50bn in cuts that had already been proposed, seeking to balance demands from fiscal conservatives for deep cuts with worries from moderates about the potential political fallout from trimming popular programmes.
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House, complained that Republicans were committed to extending $70bn in tax cuts, “while slashing funding for children’s health, student loan programmes, school lunches, and food assistance”.