Interview: Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is a five-term congressman and former head of a conservative think tank (the Goldwater Institute). He was fiscal hawks' choice for the House Appropriations Committee because of his record on fiscal issues, including opposition to earmarks and to the Medicare Part D drug plan enacted during the Bush administration.
I spoke to him by phone this morning. Was he surprised by the lack of substantial cuts and entitlement reform specifics in the president's State of the Union address? He says bluntly, "I was. I thought we'd hear more." He is hopeful, but not certain House Republicans will go after substantial cuts in domestic discretionary spending. "I wouldn't say I'm confident," he says about Republicans' determination to slash spending. "We're hearing less than the $100 billion we talked about. Now, part of that is that we are part way through the fiscal year." He argues, "The tax deal made our fiscal situation worse. Then we heard from CBO that the deficit is $1.5 trillion. We better do something significant."
He thinks Republicans should be "broadening the pool" for potential cuts. He says, "Why in the world would we wall off Homeland Security?"
On the subject of entitlement reform, Flake says, "Everyone recognizes it's tough for one party to do this. Maybe there is an opening with divided government to get something done. Having said that, if Obama won't lead we will." His suggestion would be the Roadmap for America proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). He says, "I was one of fourteen who signed on to that."
He's optimistic about the incoming Republican freshman class. He confesses that he hasn't met them all since "there are so many of them." But of those he has talked to, most recently at retreat this weekend, he says, "There are quite a number of them ready to stand up [on spending]." He is optimistic that they won't be seduced by "the ways of Washington" and become pork-barrel spenders.
But Flake is no conventional Republican when it comes to immigration reform. He says, "'Comprehensive' has gotten a bad word. But until we have a better one I'll use that." He says that while we need to enhance border security, that's not enough. "You have to have a viable mechanism to deal with the people who are here. My party hasn't come to grips with that." He explains that his own state of Arizona passed a controversial law (now the subject of a federal court challenge) that allows for us to "more easily round people up. But that's not the problem. The problem is what to do about them after we get them." On a political level, he says the "tone and tenor of the debate" needs to improve on the Republican side. But the substance remains the nub of the problem. He says the problem is "more complicated" than his party would like to admit. But given the current politics, he says, "I'd like to be optimistic [about reform legislation], but I'm not."
Flake is certainly not a conservative who goes along to get along. He, for example, supports lifting the travel ban on Cuba, which is anathema to many on the right. But on a raft of domestic issues, his refusal to perpetuate business as usual in Washington may be a great asset to House Republicans, and specifically to Ryan, who could use some fearless conservatives at his side.
Posted by: rcaruth | January 31, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse