December 24, 2005
2005 Man of the Year: Rep. Mike Pence
If the Republican
majority in the Senate and House can somehow stave off a newly
energized Democratic assault in the midterm polls next November
and preserve their governing status, they may well have Indiana
congressman Mike Pence to thank. It has been Pence and his roughly
100 colleagues in the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) who
have almost single-handedly stopped the chronic GOP overspending
of the past five years and forced the first full-fledged budget-cutting
bill since 1997. In doing so, Pence and his dedicated band of
principled House members have begun to force the GOP back to the
first principles of lower taxes, limited government, a strong
defense, and a fierce dedication to moral authority – including
preserving the rights of the unborn.
reasons Mr. Pence has been chosen as the Human Events
man of the year. As legislation is slowly rolling through Congress
to restrain spending and extend vital pro-growth tax cuts, Pence
and his pals have changed the thinking of their own House leadership
as well as the president himself.
suggest that this Republican rejuvenation is already posting dividends.
Of course, the new budget is itself just a bare-bones beginning,
but you have to start somewhere. Big-government conservatism has
up to now ruled the roost during the Bush years in Washington,
but Pence and his friends refuse to accept the notion that big
government – or the siren song of central planning –
will ever work any better under Republicans than it did under
Democrats, whose policy past is littered with failure after failure.
regards himself as “an unregenerate supply-sider”
who believes in pro-growth and free-market economics. “Ronald
Reagan got me into politics,” says Pence. “He was
my role model.” That’s a good start. But Pence also
counts economists Joseph Schumpeter, Henry Hazlitt, Friedrich
Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Adam Smith among his tutors. His central
aim is to marry supply-side tax reforms with strict spending restraint
in order to expand the economy and get the budget into balance.
That may put Pence and his comrades in the Washington minority
these days, but the momentum just may be shifting their way.
a third-term congressman from Indiana’s sixth district,
in the middle of the state. He ran twice unsuccessfully and then
became a popular radio talk-show host, finally winning his seat
in 2000. Like his friend and RSC colleague Jeff Flake, Pence ran
a regional policy think tank – in his case the Indiana Policy
Review Foundation, while for Flake it was the Goldwater Institute.
Like so many of the RSC members – people like Jeb Hensarling,
John Shadegg, Marsha Blackburn, and many others – successful
political style is inseparable from policy content. That’s
always a good combination for revolutionaries.
himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” But no one should
confuse his self-effacing low-key style with even a hint of political
squishiness. The Indianan was one of only a handful of Republicans
to vote against President Bush’s fiscally bloated No Child
Left Behind education bill, which raised Department of Education
spending by 52 percent (and still counting).
He also voted
against the outrageously expensive Medicare prescription-drug
bill, making a bold final stand on the eve of the vote. In June
of 2003, Pence and then House member Jim DeMint (now senator)
were called to the Oval Office for a little chat with the president.
As Pence tells it, Bush opened the meeting by saying, “Pence,
what’s your problem with this bill?” Bush had also
done his homework, and knew that Pence’s 10-year-old daughter
Charlotte was having a birthday party later that afternoon. But
the charm offensive failed. “I was willing to vote for prescription-drug
assistance up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line,”
Pence says, “but I would not support a new middle-class
He was taken
to the woodshed by the House leadership at the time, just as he
was earlier this year when he and the RSC launched “operation
offset” -- a budget-cutting response to growing public clamor
that new savings had to be found to pay for the $62 billion Hurricane
Katrina assistance plan. While then-House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay was proclaiming that Republicans had cut all the fat in
the federal budget, Pence, Hensarling, and their group developed
a breathtakingly bold plan that would lower the federal spending
baseline by $102 billion in 2006 and by $950 billion over 10 years.
Think of it as the no-wasteful-program-goes-unnoticed approach
to budget pruning.
billion deficits as far as the eye can see, Pence & Co. ripped
through subsidies, redundancies, pork barreling, farm aid, corporate
welfare, and many other tougher choices in order to completely
reprioritize and reform federal spending. The plan amounts to
a federal budget upheaval that reminds me of what’s going
on in Detroit, Michigan, where automakers Ford and GM are closing
dozens of plants in painful measures that are necessary to keeping
those ailing companies afloat.
I often wonder,
Where are the announcements of federal-budget-plant closings in
Washington? Departments and agencies that in some cases were literally
founded centuries ago continue to survive in the 21st century
as though nothing has changed – as if the Google/Internet/information-age
economy never occurred. But of course, everything has changed,
and that is what Pence and his pals are trying to say. Not just
on the spending side, but on the tax-reform side as well. Pence
insists that President Bush’s tax cuts on personal income,
capital gains, and investor dividends – the ones that successfully
reignited the U.S. economy in mid-2003 -- be made permanent. And
that’s not all. “Taxes are too high,” says Pence,
“and paying taxes is too complicated.” Down through
the years, Pence has been supportive of a Dick Armey/Steve Forbes-type
flat tax, but lately he has been looking at the fair tax that
would abolish the Internal Revenue Code altogether. He is, however,
opposed to anything that smacks of a European-style value-added
Mr. Pence is a church-going evangelical who believes that “the
sanctity of human life is the central axiom of Western civilization.”
He supports traditional marriage and he refuses to accept gambling
money for his campaigns. His faith sustains and supports him through
all the tough political decisions. “You know,” he
tells me, “my M.O. is to vote Right and then go home for
dinner.” Good advice.
about as a potential Speaker of the House and a candidate for
Majority Leader, Pence is somewhat coy about his ambitions. So
far he has refused to run for either of these spots publicly,
but he has privately told friends he would be open to a draft.
Certainly, Pence is the kind of new blood that the GOP needs if
it is to follow through on a return to the first principles of
budget and tax cutting -- along with protecting the unborn and
spreading freedom and democracy worldwide in order to gain victory
over the terrorists.
is delivering classical truths dressed in new clothes. Is his
style working? The early political results are positive. But for
a sclerotic Washington GOP, much more work has yet to be done
– although it’s increasingly clear that Pence and
his cohorts are just right for the job.
their man of the year for 2005, Human Events made an
Kudlow is a former Reagan economic advisor, a syndicated columnist,
and the co-host of CNBC's Kudlow
& Company. Visit
his blog, Kudlow's Money