- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, criticized by some conservatives for toeing the White House line too often over the past three years, is about to announce his own legislative agenda.

“I have not discussed this with President Bush or anyone else in the White House, and have no desire to,” Mr. DeLay told The Washington Times in an interview in his majority leader’s office. “But if you don’t set these conservative goals, you don’t get conservative governance.”

On Wednesday, Mr. DeLay will take the extraordinary step of introducing his own set of legislative and policy goals, for this year and beyond. He said that while he was still working on the specifics, his proposed initiatives “will cover three basic issues: security, prosperity and family.”

“We’re trying to get people excited about being Republicans again,” the Texan said.

One goal, he said, will be to re-establish what he sees as the rightful role of religion in public places, so that Christian, Jewish or Muslim symbols could not be barred from holiday displays in front of town halls.

Mr. DeLay said he will call for a doubling of the nation’s economic output within 10 to 15 years, a goal which he says can only be met by cutting taxes, reining in government spending and reducing regulation.

“What Tom’s doing is pretty refreshing,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “The White House normally sets the agenda.”

Mr. DeLay, first elected to the House 20 years ago, was a favorite of conservatives until he began taking flak for pushing some presidential initiatives that were anathema to many grass-roots Republicans, such as Medicare prescription-drug legislation.

“Tom’s practice has been to defer to the president in his first term,” said Mr. Pence. “And that’s really been reflected in the leadership’s policy in Congress.”

When the same party controls the White House and Congress, the normal way of doing business is for the House speaker and the Senate majority leader to huddle with the president over a legislative agenda before presenting it publicly.

Mr. DeLay, in effect declaring his independence, said he plans to present his package of goals and initiatives for the first time to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and the other 226 Republican House members at a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference.

Mr. DeLay said he had not discussed the specifics of his package with the speaker but has told him about the broad outlines.

Although Mr. Hastert can veto any part of the DeLay plan, he is not expected to, given that the Illinois Republican has one of the most consistently conservative voting records in the House.

Word of the DeLay plan generally met with approval from other House Republicans, especially those who disagreed with Mr. Bush’s recent immigration-reform proposal.

“This will reaffirm Tom’s leadership as a conservative,” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican.

Mr. Pence said Mr. DeLay’s introducing his own agenda “signals the dynamics of the president’s second term, hopefully very different.”

The first hint of Mr. DeLay’s agenda came in a speech he delivered last month at a private retreat for Republican legislators in Philadelphia.

Some fellow Republicans who heard that speech said it sounded like an updated version of the “Contract with America” that Newt Gingrich introduced before the 1994 elections. Widely credited with having helped spur the Republican takeover of the House for the first time in 40 years, the Contract with America also boosted Mr. Gingrich from minority whip to House speaker. But a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president when Mr. Gingrich devised his Contract.

Even some fellow Republican House members who have occasionally disagreed with Mr. DeLay nonetheless defend his overall job performance as majority leader. They point out that the job of even a conservative leader at times requires making compromises either out of loyalty to the president or the need to win the votes of liberal Republicans in the House.

“He has been steering the art of the possible,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican.

Making compromises on basic core principles is a more serious matter for conservative House members and their supporters.

Even though Mr. Wilson is an assistant House whip, for example, he felt compelled to ask Mr. DeLay and Majority Whip Roy Blunt to be excused from counting votes on a free-trade bill that Mr. Wilson opposed.

For his part, Mr. DeLay has not always carried water for the Bush White House.

He made his own stand on principle, his supporters noted, when he opposed parts of Mr. Bush’s proposal to grant guest-worker status to illegal immigrants and voted against the president’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation that expanded the federal role in education.

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