Republicans heard from U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner about congressional efforts to create jobs, his own legislation to stimulate domestic energy production and his thirsty daughter during a luncheon thrown by the state GOP on Thursday at a downtown Denver restaurant.
Gardner was the speaker at the October Capital Club gathering, a consistent draw for about 100 donors every month at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant since Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call launched the monthly fundraiser this spring.
Pointing out persistent high unemployment and enduring economic woes, Gardner said that the freshmen class of Republican lawmakers is intent steering Congress toward solutions based on cutting regulations, providing certainty for businesses so they can expand, and generally getting the federal government out of the way. But he also added that he takes seriously the obligation of Republicans to govern when they’re in the majority and batted back a suggestion the fired-up newcomers have been co-opted by the Washington establishment.
The Yuma Republican, who served in the state House before knocking off incumbent U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey during last year’s wave election, talked about some of the highlights of his first year in Congress but opened with a story about an amusing stumble on his way into office. It seems House Speaker John Boehner — swept into the speaker’s chair after Republicans took control of the House — forgot Gardner’s name during a fundraising appearance on the campaign trail last year.
“That’s why you need to elect…” Boehner said, pointing to Gardner and falling into silence. “…the candidate,” the Ohio Republican finally said, a stumble Gardner said he planned to rib the speaker about when he gets up the nerve.
It wasn’t the only behind-the-scenes story Gardner told to convey the delights and surprises he has encountered in Washington.
During his swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the House of Representatives, Gardner recalled that his 7-year-old daughter, Alyson, passed him a note. He wondered if she was taking note of the awesome occasion, the peaceful transition of power from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Speaker John Boehner, something Gardner said affirmed for him the greatness of the institution he would be serving.
“I’m thirsty,” read the note, which Gardner said he keeps framed in his office and hopes one day to have Boehner autograph.
When members of Congress read the Constitution, Gardner said he thought he might be reading one of the key amendments in the Bill of Rights — freedom of speech, freedom of religion. But it was not to be.
“I read the part of the Constitution about emoluments,” Gardner said with a chuckle. “Raise your hand if you remember the part of the Constitution about emoluments.” Despite being assigned a rather obscure passage, Gardner said he was so excited he “felt like a hummingbird on Red Bull.”
Then he turned his focus to the role of a divided Congress in fixing a moribund economy. He said the contrast between the approach of Democrats and Republicans is stark.
“That’s what we have got to do is get this Congress, get this president focused again on restoring the economic greatness of our nation,” Gardner said. “But I know that we in government don’t just pass a bill and say, ‘We’ve created 50,000 jobs today.’ What we can do is pass legislation, promote policies and perform our oversight duties to make sure government gets out of the way. And that’s what the men and women in this room do best. That’s to run their businesses, to create their own jobs in their own private businesses, to run their families, and to let them lead the lives that they want to.”
Republicans believe the best way to spur the economy is to eliminate burdensome regulations and bring certainty to policies such as the federal tax structure, environmental regulations and questions about pending health care reform. Uncertainty, he said, is what’s keeping the nation’s economic engines from “unleashing” their potential. “People, because of that, are sitting on their capital, and not spending it to grow the economy,” Gardner said after polling the audience, which looked like it agreed with him.
For his part, he said he has sponsored a bill that would expedite the review process for exploration permits to drill for oil by changing a procedure that he said can tie up the permits for years to consider environmental impacts. Without raising any taxes, he said, his proposal would create 54,000 jobs and produce as much as 1 million barrels of oil a day — the same amount of oil imported from Saudi Arabia.Gardner said that Colorado engineers are developing new kinds of batteries that are smaller and charge in minutes instead of hours, and that if the government gets out of the way, this new technology could allow consumers to power automobiles using renewable energy sources — not to mention charging an iPad in a fraction of the time it currently takes.
He also touted another of his proposals, to create a Small Business Savings Account, something like an IRA that taxpayers can use to sock away money to invest in businesses.
But all the tax policy and regulatory reform in the world won’t matter if the country doesn’t get control of the budget deficit, he said. “That’s why I strongly support a balanced budget amendment and I hope that the United States Congress will give you the opportunity to vote on it.”
When it came time to answer questions from the donors, Gardner agreed with one Republican that President Barack Obama has a far more visible bully pulpit to sell his policies than any member of Congress but warned against conceding the fight.
“We have got to do a better job of talking about those jobs bills we have passed to the Senate that haven’t even been voted on,” he said, echoing a complaint common among Republicans that the Democratic-controlled Senate is letting House legislation languish.
He pointed to a trio of trade agreements — with South Korea, Columbia and Panama —passed without much dispute on a single day by Congress earlier this month that he said the president pushed by saying the pacts will create 250,000 jobs. “The next day, they said we haven’t passed any jobs bills,” Gardner lamented.
Asked whether the enthusiasm of freshmen Republicans supported by the Tea Party has been dampened by the Republican establishment in Congress, Gardner admitted that lawmakers are under “a great deal of pressure” to check their principles in the cloak room.
“When you’re barreling off the cliff financially, just looking at the emergency break isn’t enough,” said one donor, pressing Gardner on some of the compromises struck by Republicans.
Noting that he voted against this spring’s budget resolution because promised savings didn’t add up, Gardner nonetheless said that elected Republicans must strike a balance between advancing their cause and keeping the cogs of government running.
“We do have the purse strings, but we also have an obligation to govern,” he said. “And that’s why I don’t believe it’s in the best interests of the country to shut government down. I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the economy, and I don’t think that’s in the best interest of improving our economy.”