112th Congress needs strong conservative leadership to right ship

America just put its trust in conservatives to fix what’s gone so wrong lately, but change is tricky business, isn’t it? Last election’s “new-direction” Democrats are in trouble because it turned out their ideas of governance hadn’t changed since Vice President Henry A. Wallace wrote in the April 9, 1944, New York Times, “The problem is to spend up our rate of social invention in the service of the welfare of all the people.”

The old New Dealer was arguing that only “liberal potential … properly channeled” could woo post-war Americans away from what the fatally seductive lure of warmed-over, European-style authoritarianism. He seemed not to notice that liberal populism wouldn’t be needed to crush that enemy because U.S. troops were doing the job.

Contemporary Democrats aren’t much different. They still haven’t noticed that vast spending for social welfare doesn’t work and isn’t wanted, or that their trust of government over freedom gave us double-digit unemployment, a multi-billion-dollar stimulus and bailout bills, huge expansions of welfare and government-run healthcare and trillion-dollar deficits.

Some say the recession’s over, so cheer up, it could be worse. Trouble is, it is worse. Since World War II, the average economic recovery surpassed the previous high Gross Domestic Product level just five quarters after a recession began, and it has never taken longer than seven quarters. Yet after eleven quarters of Obama-era recession we are still operating at a GDP lower than pre-recession levels, and the economy is slogging along at only about a third the rate of previous post-war recoveries. Moreover, where it typically took 22 months to restore normal employment in the post-war era, America is now 7.5 million jobs short of our pre-recession high after 32 months. 

The Democrats’ answer to such criticism is as defiant as President Roosevelt’s: “I would like to have it said of my first administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and lust for power have met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it, these forces met their master.”

That sort of view shows why honoring the midterm election’s new mandate will take a corps of very determined, conservative leaders at every level in the newly Republican House of Representatives, right down to the subcommittee. The kind of leaders I’m talking about did not ally with Democrats to raise taxes by killing the Bush-era tax cuts. And these conservatives opposed requiring a super-majority in the Senate to approve any new tax cuts. 

The bank bailout seemed like a terrible idea to me and so did the bailout for mortgage loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Most conservatives agreed. They also voted no — and were blasted for having the courage to do so — to vastly expanding taxpayer-paid welfare programs such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

I don’t know many conservatives who thought banning the incandescent light bulb was a swell idea, or who decided that Americans could simply make do with less energy from offshore. And I don’t know a single conservative who opposed the troop surge that finally turned the tide against the brutal insurgency in Iraq, or who considered it a bad idea to let parents know before their teenage daughters got an abortion at a federally funded clinic.

On my House Energy and Commerce Committee, that’s going to mean spending 2011 dragging the Obama administration to the Hill to explain what on earth they are doing in areas such as healthcare and energy. Nothing has gone quite so awry as the massive, government-run Obama health program, and it is plain that the individual mandate, the employee mandate, the abortion funding, the tangle of outsider/insider councils like the comparative effectiveness board and the effective nationalization of healthcare under grants of authority to the Department of Health and Human Services — all that has to go. 

The Obama spending extravaganza will continue, the deficits will hit new records, energy bills will be higher and health insurance will be scarcer and more expensive, and the jobless rate might peg itself permanently at 9-point-something percent unless we manage to favor freedom over government and make that change stick. 

It begins by making sure that the leaders we pick are as thoughtful, committed and conservative as the people our freshmen congressmen will be representing. 

Rep. Barton is the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.