This afternoon, several members of the House of Representatives gathered for the second edition of Conversations with Conservatives, a panel giving reporters and Twitter participants the chance to ask lawmakers about news of the day. Most prominent among the topics were taxes – specifically, tax reform and the infamous Buffett Rule – and of course, support (or lack thereof) for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
One word: blunt. The question was simply, “Are you excited about Mitt Romney?” Of course, this is a loaded question to ask a room full of the House’s most conservative members. Romney’s struggle with Tea Party conservatives has been well-documented throughout the campaign process, and this was the first time since Rick Santorum’s concession that many lawmakers of Tea Party ilk were commenting publicly on the matter.
Rep. Jim Jordan (OH) jumped in right away and captured the attitude many of these conservatives have toward the nominee: “We’re excited to get Barack Obama out of the White House.”
In fact, no one was particularly effusive about the man challenging Barack Obama. In fact, most of the lawmakers considered the fact that he’s not Obama to be Romney’s greatest asset, although Rep. Jordan made a point to say, “When you talk to [Romney] in person, he is genuine, and he cares about the issues you care about.”
On the other hand, Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX) joked, “If you’re not sure about whether you want to support Romney…you ought to be excited, he’s been on your side at one point or another!” Indeed, there was some palpable discontent with Romney – many of these lawmakers seem like they’re still coming to terms with supporting him – but like Rep. Jordan said, they’re all in for the larger goal at hand, namely defeating Obama. Rep. Gohmert later made a point to say, “I’m not as excited as I am desperate.”
For the most part, however, these conservatives focused on encouraging unity. Rep. Raul Labrador (ID) said, “I’m excited that the process is over, that we have a nominee to take on Obama…It’s time for conservatives to get behind the nominee.”
In short, these lawmakers could agree that anybody is better than Obama, and that the time has come for conservatives to turn outward and take the fight to him. As Rep. Gohmert said, “If Romney gets elected, we will have someone in the White House who will talk to us, and work with us, and create a plan, instead of someone who comes here, demands to speak to a joint session of Congress to demand that we pass his jobs bill, which didn’t even exist.”
On Taxes and the Buffett Rule
The lawmakers sought to clarify their stance on taxes; it’s clear that Obama’s “fairness” rhetoric has influenced the way the conservatives are presenting their case on the issue. They tried to dispel the myth that the GOP advocates for a tax system that favors the wealthy over the poor; conservatives are also invested in fair solutions to our broken system.
“You want rich people to pay more? You don’t even have to worry about the loopholes,” said Rep. Gohmert. “You go to a flat tax: you make more, you pay more. You make less, you pay less. They [the Democrats] are not talking about that, the Republicans are talking about that.”
Rep. Labrador also noted the importance of flattening the tax, while also broadening the base and getting rid of complicated tax policies that allow certain people to game the system. “We are OK with getting rid of all the loopholes, so that companies like GE aren’t paying nothing,” he said, “But at the same time, we need to lower taxes so we can get back for 4 and 5 and 6% of economic growth.”
They also stressed the importance of trying to move solutions through soon; as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (KS) put it, “At the end of the year, we will have taxmaggedon.”
As for the Buffett Rule, the conservatives have no shortage of ill will toward the measure that even Obama admitted is a gimmick. Rep. David Schweikert (AZ) pointed out that Washington has debated the issue for weeks, yet it “would only pay for three and a half minutes a day” over its ten-year life.
Furthermore, the lawmakers saw the Buffett Rule as indicative of the ideological divide between liberals and conservatives. Rep. Huelskamp said they have “a different vision” of what a fair tax system should be. “Obama could send another check, Mr. Buffett could send another check,” he said, “But he won’t release his tax returns because he doesn’t want the American people to see he’s not paying the taxes he should.” Rep. Labrador also pointed out the hypocrisy among wealthy liberals, noting that they want to force others to pay “their fair share,” while they’re unwilling to do the same.
Of course, the members were also quick to note that reforming the tax code is only part of what must be done to resolve the debt crisis. Rep. Jeff Landry (LA) pointed out, “We have a systemic spending problem in this company,” noting the recent “green energy” scandals such as Solyndra, which were huge wastes of taxpayer funds. “Think about the roads that we could pave with that money,” he said.
Allen West’s Communist Comments
One of Congress’ most outspoken conservatives was also present, and naturally, a reporter in attendance asked him if he wanted to walk back his comments about certain progressive members of Congress practicing Communism.
Rep. West, of course, said no.
“I wish people would focus on what the left is doing,” he said, and cited examples of progressive power grabs that have moved us toward a more socialistic structure of government. “You try and tell me that business is not being centralized. Financial sector, healthcare…”
“I stand by what I am saying,” he said. “It’s interesting that no one is disputing the point I made, just the fact that I made it.”
The “War on Women”
Given the recent “Rosenflap” headlines, it’s only natural that question of women and the GOP came up in the discussion. The lawmakers were optimistic about the party’s prospects with women this fall. Rep. Sandy Adams (FL) said, “When I talk to women, they are not concerned about some faux war on women. What all Americans want is to be able to take care of their families, work, and achieve the American dream.”
She argued that at the end of the day, women wouldn’t vote based on some archaic perception of Republicans as “anti-woman,” but simply based on which party’s vision of government would allow them to live best. “Everyone one of this administration’s policies is putting a barrier to achieving the American dream,” she said, and that’s what women will care about.
Rep. Labrador echoed that sentiment: “Moms are the ones who will be making the decisions about this election,” he said. “You will see more and more Independent women realize that it’s actually the vision of Republicans in Congress and Mitt Romney that will enact policies that will allow people to grow.”
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