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SALMON: It’s time to break some rules in Congress

Conservatives must dare to be fiscally responsible

- - Monday, March 11, 2013

If there's anything I have learned since returning to Congress, it's that talk is still cheap, progress is still slow, and our liberties continue to erode every day.

When I last served in the House during the 1990s, it was common to say that we needed to control spending to protect future generations. Since I left, I have watched the national debt pile up under President George W. Bush, and then explode to unprecedented levels under President Obama. Indeed, both political parties are responsible for this. Our fiscal situation has now become so dire that it's no longer just about protecting future generations -- it's about protecting the person retiring tomorrow.

This is what compelled me to return to Washington and get back in the fight to restore fiscal sanity.

Since being sworn in, I've had the opportunity to survey our problems from the inside out for more than two months. It's not pretty. America now owes more in debt than the total of our national gross domestic product, and Congress is more dysfunctional than ever.

Sadly, far too many politicians in Washington lack the courage to do something to fix our problems. They are worried about the political implications of making the hard choices we so desperately need to cut spending and shrink government.

That's unfortunate, and it needs to change.

During my previous tenure in Congress, House Republicans passed several pieces of meaningful legislation. We enacted welfare reform, pro-growth tax cuts, and achieved the holiest of grails -- a balanced budget. In fact, by the time I left Congress in 2001 to honor my term-limits pledge, we had a budget surplus of more than $240 billion.

These successes were not easy to achieve. They came about because House conservatives were willing to confront GOP leadership when they occasionally got off-track rather than standing firm on the principles of economic freedom.

One tactic we used was to vote against House rules on specific bills that did not uphold conservative principles.

This is how it works: Before a bill can be considered in the House, there must first be a vote on the rule. The rule dictates how much time is spent on debate, how many amendments will be allowed, etc. Since the majority party is in charge of the House schedule, they are the ones who create the rules. The vote to pass these rules is almost always party-line affairs and usually goes unchallenged.

It's not uncommon for strong, fiscally conservative Republicans in the House to support the rule on an ugly bill that grows government, but then vote against the underlying bill.

Yet it shouldn't be that way. Why should a self-described fiscal conservative enable the passage of a bad bill by supporting the rule? If they oppose the underlying bill, then they should vote against any procedural move -- including the rule -- that enables the bill's passage.

As Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, once said, "If you let me write the procedure, and I let you write the substance, I'll [beat] you every time."

More recently, had House conservatives voted against certain rules, they could have defeated several big-government bills that passed under a Republican House.

It's time to shake things up and return the Republican Party to its roots of smaller government and less spending.

From this point forward, I will vote against the rule for bills that increase spending without offsetting spending cuts and encourage my other conservative colleagues to do the same. Similarly, if House leadership brings any more bills to the floor without first securing the support from the majority of the GOP conference, I will take the same action. If enough of my conservative colleagues in the House join me, we can unilaterally put an end to the growth of government that is moving us closer to Greece-like fiscal calamities.

Why would I be willing to challenge my Republican leadership? Because my allegiance will always be to the Constitution and the American people first and foremost, not to my political party.

The United Kingdom Special Forces have a motto -- "who dares, wins." It's time for conservative Republicans in Congress to dare. The future of our nation depends on it.

Rep. Matt Salmon is an Arizona Republican.