Cole Emphasizes GOP Solidarity to Block Runaway Spending

“Pushing things back through some semblance of regular order and being tough is actually an enormous fiscal victory.”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04) appeared yesterday morning before a breakfast meeting of The Ripon Society, delivering remarks about the state of the 118th Congress as it moves further into its second session and — despite having a historically-narrow majority and a precedent-setting new Speaker — what he sees as the real accomplishment of House Republicans over the past year.

“It’s the most unusual Congress in American history,” Cole stated.  “I mean that in all sincerity. You have to remember this started with something that we had not done in 100 years — multiple speaker ballot votes.  And if you look at the length of time and number of votes, you have to go back to 1856 — pre-Civil War — to find anything remotely comparable. And then less than a year into it, we do something that we have never done in the history of the United States House of Representatives. We vacate the chair. 

“The institution is 234 years old, and it had never been done before.  And we were without a Speaker for three weeks. You look at our membership, and we have a pretty new majority — 50 percent of our members had never served in the majority until this Congress.  So I’m not surprised we’re seeing unusual things, for that reason alone. We’re also operating — looking at the Senate and the House — with the most narrow majority that anybody’s had since 1884.” 

Cole was first elected to the House in 2002.  He currently serves as Chairman of the Rules Committee, and previously served as Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 2006 to 2008.  In both of these roles, he has earned a reputation not only as one of the top legislative tacticians on Capitol Hill today, but one of the shrewdest strategists when it comes to the future ambitions of the GOP.

He commented on these ambitions in his remarks yesterday morning.

“Part of our problem is our ambition is greater than our numbers in this Congress,” he said matter-of-factly.  “When you have a majority this small and the other party controls the Senate and the presidency, your accomplishments are mostly going to be negative — that is, you’re going to deny the other side and serve as, let’s say, a blocking majority.  It’s not a majority capable of pushing things through the Senate and to the President’s desk. You can’t do that.”

What Republicans can do, Cole noted, is talk about what they have been able to accomplish with their narrow majority, and there, he added, the House Republican majority has a good story to tell.

“In the last two years before this majority,” he observed, “we spent $3 trillion outside the normal appropriations process.  To give you some idea of the scope, the discretionary budget of the United States is $1.6 trillion a year.  So we doubled domestic spending in a two-year period.  That is not happening now. That is an accomplishment of this majority, which it never takes credit for. Just shutting the door on that, pushing things back through some semblance of regular order and being tough is actually an enormous fiscal victory.”

This success story aside, Cole was blunt in his assessment of the challenge facing both Republicans and Democrats in getting spending under control in the coming years.

“Hal Rogers is the longest serving guy in the House,” he said of the former Appropriations Committee Chairman.  “He arrived here in 1981.  The Appropriations Committee controlled 65 percent of all federal spending at that time. Today, it controls 28 percent of spending.  So we’re not the problem. The problem is the committees of jurisdiction.  Ways and Means and Energy & Commerce have largely not done their job in terms of controlling spending. Now, we can always come up with a great unpaid-for entitlement reform program.  Medicare Part D, I’m not critical of that — I voted for it, and I think it was a good program.  But the point is, sooner or later they have to start paying the piper or they have to reform the system or some combination of the two.”

“With all due respect to all the great Ways and Means Chairmen I’ve known — and I’ve known them all — they always want to cut taxes, but I don’t ever hear any of them ever put entitlement reform as the centerpiece of their agenda, Democrat or Republican.  I don’t see any of them doing anything on it. And until that happens, the idea that you balance the budget on the back of discretionary spending, particularly given what’s happened over the last 20 years or so — or in Hal’s case, I guess 43 years — you can’t do it. It’s just not possible.”

Cole was equally blunt in assessing the challenge Congress faces of getting anything done in an election year, and what voters are paying the most attention to between now and November.

“Anybody who thinks this is going to be a year of great accomplishment doesn’t understand politics very much,” he stated.  “The further you get in the political year, the more difficult it is to legislate. If you don’t think that, ask James Lankford when you talk to him about how difficult it is when you have a presidential candidate on the outside opining on what’s going in on the inside. And you tell me any non-incumbent presidential candidate, left or right, is ever going to have anything good to say about the Congress of the United States.  I mean, you’re looking to pick fights when you’re in that business, and you want to fight the smallest, least popular person in the world. And that’s us — that’s Congress. 

“And honestly, to be fair, Congress ought to be very careful in an election year simply because we don’t know who’s going to win. It’s not a matter of just positioning yourself politically. It’s also, why make big changes when the American people are getting ready to make a big decision? They’re going to decide who controls the Senate. I actually like our chances there. I think with Manchin leaving, it’s 50-50 now. I don’t see anyone we’ve got in danger. And I certainly see several opportunities out there. Probably who wins the presidency, wins the House. And we can all overthink this. Members like to think what they do is important and everybody’s watching. 

“My voters aren’t watching this. They’re mostly watching the presidential campaign. And if they’re voting for Donald Trump — which they will in very substantial numbers in my district — they’re not voting Democrat down the ticket. And if they’re voting for Joe Biden, they’re not going to look at me and say, ‘yeah, but Tom Cole’s such a great guy. I think I’ll slip over.’ They’re mostly going to be there. So, the presidential race is going to determine largely who wins the House.”

To view Chairman Cole’s remarks before The Ripon Society on Thursday, please click the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.