In an interview conducted by the host of a local radio station just prior to the November 2nd election, now 4th term Congressman Jeff Fortenberry made several comments that deserve scrutiny. We’ve already discussed Fortenberry’s apparent back-pedaling, during that interview, from the Republicans’ commitment to the voters to repeal and replace the health reform law. Here we will examine the Congressman’s observations concerning the growth in the size of the federal government over the last 10 years, the concurrent increase in federal spending, the ballooning federal deficit, and then estimate the chances he’s going to do anything meaningful about the situation.
About midway through the interview, the host asks Rep. Fortenberry if Congress has gotten the message that voters are “tired” of the government going into debt. The Congressman responds:
“[F]rankly, there needs to be bold, authentic leadership that is willing to make hard decisions as to how we get the fiscal house in order, return to some of our most cherished traditions, and have the federal government go back to its rightful place in the basic things that it can and must do very well. I think that’s what the American people are very, very clearly saying.”
Sounds like he, at least, understands the message sufficiently well to be able summarize it adequately. So far, so good. The Congressman continues:
“The size of federal government has, basically, doubled in the last 10 years. Now, it’s accelerated exponentially in the last two, but it has been growing steadily. And I — Most families in America are living with the same amount of income they’ve had for the last couple of years or less, and, yet, the government has grown enormously. And forty — About forty cents on every dollar that’s being spent is actually borrowed. Now, you can’t do that in your family very long. A business can’t do that in the fa- — in their operations for very long. But the government can do it, because it has a very large credit card, and it can hide the consequences of pushing future taxes on the children or selling the assets of the country overseas to China and other places, or creating inflationary effects, which are all long-term problems for economic viability. So, now is the time where serious leadership is needed to call the American people forth and say, ‘We must tighten the belt. We must get the fiscal house in order.’ And we’re going to have to have an authentic policy discussion as to how we do that and call for some shared sacrifice.”
Again, what Congressman Fortenberry is saying is music to the ears of those of us who have been beating the drum calling for fiscal responsibility.
The host responds by asking Congressman Fortenberry, “If you’re re-elected, are you planning on trying to help lead that charge and, if so, how?” Rep. Fortenberry quickly responds, “Well, I think we’ve been a part of that all along,” and goes on to relate how, in the past, he voted for a $25 billion deficit reduction bill. According to the Congressman, that vote was “very difficult” for him, due to “the amount of push-back that came from persons concerned about the government funds that were being reduced.”
My first response was, if the Congressman found cutting $25 billion from a past budget and resisting the push-back he received for doing so “very difficult,” how will he withstand the pressure when the necessary TRILLIONS are cut to eliminate the current budget deficit?
My next thought was to question Fortenberry’s assertion that he’s been a force for fiscal responsibility in Congress “all along.” Has he really? Or is Congressman Fortenberry prone to talking the talk, but failing to walk the walk when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money? The only way to determine the answer to that question is to examine his voting record during the six years he’s occupied his House seat.
There are more than a few national organizations1The site linked here lists many organizations that rate Congressmen and the site does run the gambit from “liberal” to “conservative”. that regularly publish ratings of our senators and congressmen on a number of factors of interest to constituents, for example, tallying their votes to determine whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, whether and to what extent they support civil rights and liberty, whether and to what degree they support gun rights and the Second Amendment, whether they support environmental causes, and so on. The list is lengthy. Consequently, it is not difficult to get some idea of how a given congressman “scores” when it comes to spending the public’s money.
In an effort to be fair, I didn’t check just one ratings database that targets congressional spending. I searched until I found three2 Of the three referenced, two are listed on the site referenced above. They are Americans For Tax Reform and Citizens Against Government Waste. National Taxpayers Union is the third. The Americans For Tax Reform link goes to the front page of the site. Click HERE to download a PDF of the most recent ratings available which is the 110th Congress. The Citizens Against Government Waste link goes to an excellent introduction regarding their ratings system. To review Rep. Fortenberry’s record on this site, click on “Nebraska” located in the list on the sidebar of the page. . Only two of these organizations provide ratings as recent as 2009. The other one’s most recently published review rates votes that occurred in 2007. In only one does Fortenberry’s voting record in 2009 earn him a score higher than a C+, and that “high” score was a B-.
Arguably, his record SHOULD be better in 2009 because his party was in the minority. As a party, they earned the reputation of being the party of “No”. If Rep. Fortenberry was ever going to exhibit fiscal conservatism, it would have been then. To quote Codevilla (again)3 “Codevilla” is a reference to Angelo M. Codevilla’s article in the summer edition of the American Spectator magazine entitled “America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution“. The word “again” is used because we have linked to this article many times since its publication and will very likely do so in the future as occasion arises – it’s that good. If you haven’t read it, you should.:
“Although after the election of 2008 most Republican office holders argued against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, against the subsequent bailouts of the auto industry, against the several “stimulus” bills and further summary expansions of government power to benefit clients of government at the expense of ordinary citizens, the American people had every reason to believe that many Republican politicians were doing so simply by the logic of partisan opposition. After all, Republicans had been happy enough to approve of similar things under Republican administrations. Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind.”
This leads the inquiring mind to question: Was Fortenberry a bigger spender when Republicans occupied the White House and/or controlled Congress? Historically, his voting record, when rated on spending and fiscal responsibility, earns him, at best, a C average during those years. One database gives him a lifetime score of 52%, which it terms “lukewarm” on issues important to taxpayers, even though his 2009 score (63%) qualifies him as taxpayer “friendly4 It seems worth noting that Rep. Fortenberry barely achieved the designation of “friendly”; Citizens Against Government Waste characterizes scores of 60-79% as “friendly”. The remaining categories are “hostile” at 0-19%, “unfriendly” at 20-39%, “lukewarm” at 40-59%, “taxpayer hero” 80-99%, and “taxpayer superhero” at 100%..” Overall, Rep. Fortenberry’s spending habits are significantly worse than those of his fellow House members from Nebraska, whose lifetime scores beat Fortenberry’s by 27 (Rep. Terry) and 34 (Rep. Smith) percentage points, respectively.
Further, Americans for Tax Reform described Fortenberry as a “pledge breaker” for his voting record in 2007. He apparently signed their tax payer protection pledge in 2006 in advance of the 110th Session of Congress by which he bound himself “to oppose any and all tax increases”. Based on his voting record, Americans For Tax Reform concluded he violated the pledge on two out of three separate votes they examined. Interestingly, Rep. Fortenberry signed ATF’s taxpayer protection pledge for the upcoming 112th Congressional Session. In light of his track record, inquiring minds must question his commitment to his pledge this time around.
Congressman Fortenberry clearly has “issues.” He talks like a fiscally responsible conservative Republican, at least when he’s interviewed on a Nebraska radio station. When he’s voting in Congress, his behavior belies his “dark side.” Bold leadership does not put one in, at best, the middle of the pack, nor does such a leader find it “very difficult” to resist push-back against doing something he believes to be right. Authenticity implies that one’s deeds conform to one’s words and, moreover, that one’s words do not change with one’s geographical location (i.e., Washington D.C. vs Nebraska). I don’t know about you, but I think we’d best look elsewhere for that “bold, authentic leadership” in getting our fiscal house in order.
In a 1975 radio address, Ronald Reagan observed, “[T]hat politics, which is often called the second oldest profession, has a great similarity to the first.” As the convening of the 112th Session of Congress nears, one wonders whether Rep. Fortenberry will remember his pledge to protect taxpayers or will he “walk in the joint” and be seduced by the temptations that confront all Big Spenders?
References & Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||The site linked here lists many organizations that rate Congressmen and the site does run the gambit from “liberal” to “conservative”.|
|2.||↑||Of the three referenced, two are listed on the site referenced above. They are Americans For Tax Reform and Citizens Against Government Waste. National Taxpayers Union is the third. The Americans For Tax Reform link goes to the front page of the site. Click HERE to download a PDF of the most recent ratings available which is the 110th Congress. The Citizens Against Government Waste link goes to an excellent introduction regarding their ratings system. To review Rep. Fortenberry’s record on this site, click on “Nebraska” located in the list on the sidebar of the page.|
|3.||↑||“Codevilla” is a reference to Angelo M. Codevilla’s article in the summer edition of the American Spectator magazine entitled “America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution“. The word “again” is used because we have linked to this article many times since its publication and will very likely do so in the future as occasion arises – it’s that good. If you haven’t read it, you should.|
|4.||↑||It seems worth noting that Rep. Fortenberry barely achieved the designation of “friendly”; Citizens Against Government Waste characterizes scores of 60-79% as “friendly”. The remaining categories are “hostile” at 0-19%, “unfriendly” at 20-39%, “lukewarm” at 40-59%, “taxpayer hero” 80-99%, and “taxpayer superhero” at 100%.|