WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) today spoke on Republican failures at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“The story goes that Daniel Patrick Moynihan was in a heated argument with one of his colleagues. And after ten minutes or so, the other senator threw up his hands and said, ‘You may disagree with me, but I’m entitled to my own opinions.’
“Senator Moynihan answered: ‘You’re entitled to your own opinions—but you’re not entitled to your own facts.’
“I’m here today to talk about the record of the last eight years and what we can learn from it. But on a more basic level, I’m here to stand up for the principle that facts are common property. Politics does not work without a shared picture of the world as it is. But unless we start from that common picture, we will spend our time shouting at each other from two sides of a chasm.
“More and more, politics is departing from a shared language. We’ve all seen it—each side with its own talking heads, its own websites, its own cable shows, and, in the end, its own private reality.
“And when you concede that reality is relative, what do we have left to coax people over from one side of the divide to the other? An impoverished political language that results, inevitably, in bad policy—the kind you can enact when you never have to win anyone over on the merits.
“But I have faith in the facts. And the dominant fact of the last eight years is the unprecedented dominance of conservatism—or at least something that’s been parading around as conservatism while Edmund Burke slowly rotates in his grave. At any rate, Republicans got eight years in the White House, six years with all the levers of power—something that not even Ronald Reagan had. And in that time, the ideology that so many had honed for so long had its definitive test.
“And what was the result? Government malpractice. Serial failure—a failure that came about not in spite of, but because of, modern conservative ideology.
“Republicans have failed on the economy. Conservative philosophy has been instinctively set against responsible oversight and consumer protection. John McCain is an excellent example: This year, he told the Wall Street Journal, ‘I am fundamentally a deregulator.’
“In 2005, the White House helped quash reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which turned out to be at the heart of this month’s financial crisis. Republicans failed to prevent the abusive lending practices at the root of the subprime debacle, and regulators did not enforce the laws in place. As the housing bubble grew, the push for deregulation grew with it. The Administration and its allies in the Congress handed out exemptions from anti-predatory lending laws to the biggest financial players. And while exotic financial products were proliferating, common-sense oversight failed to keep up.
“During the years of this neglect, with the referees taken off and kept off the field, a crisis was building in America. Today, we see the results: mass foreclosures, the worst decline in the housing market since the Great Depression, and now, a meltdown on Wall Street, for which taxpayers are being asked to pick up the tab.
“Conservative philosophy says that tax cuts are a panacea, in times of recession, and in times of growth—even when they help create 1920s levels of inequality, even when they drive us deeper and deeper into debt. Even John McCain’s senior economic advisor admitted that we simply cannot afford another round of tax cuts. So why push them? Because, he said, 'It’s the brand. And you don’t dilute the brand.'
“Unfortunately, not all conservatives can be that forthcoming. It wasn’t that long ago that Minority Leader John Boehner was saying: 'The pro-growth economic policies put in place by Republicans are working as planned to spur economic growth and reduce the deficit.'
“Working as planned? 3.4 million more Americans are unemployed since President Bush took office. He is one of only four Presidents in history to preside over an average annual increase in poverty. At the same time, household income is down, and home foreclosures are at a record high.
“On the budget, Dick Cheney declared that “deficits don’t matter.” Republicans pursued that philosophy with a vengeance. This Administration swung the Clinton surplus $10 trillion in the wrong direction, into record deficits. Now, because of record debt and foreign borrowing that exceeded the total of first 42 Administrations combined, we have passed the bill to our children and grandchildren.
“Republicans have failed on energy. Of course, that depends on your perspective. If you’re an oil corporation, conservatives policies have been a gusher—they’ve resulted in the biggest profits in American history, and they’ve been getting billion-dollar subsidies on top of them.
“But for the rest of us? It’s been pointed out that, after 9/11, President Bush had an opportunity to call us to energy independence, to break the oil addiction that funds dictators and terrorists alike. But instead, he called on us to “go shopping.”
“Since President Bush took office, the cost of gas is up nearly 150%. In the minority, Republicans have voted against nearly every single piece of legislation we’ve brought to the floor to confront high gas prices.
“They have failed on healthcare. Accepting the Republican nomination in 2004, President Bush said: ‘In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for government health insurance programs.’ But then the President vetoed the very same SCHIP expansion he called when he was trying to get reelected. House Republicans sustained that veto, and because of them, four million children do not have health insurance today.
“They have failed on foreign policy. It, too, is a story of failed promises and baseless predictions. As America began the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld predicted: ‘It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.’ I don’t need to remind you: Today that war has stretched on longer than World War II, costing us more than 4,000 American lives and some $600 billion and stretching our military to the breaking point. Meanwhile, Afghanistan smolders, and al Qaeda is regrouping.
“Last but not least, they have failed us with their abuse of power. Honestly, it’s not much of a surprise—if your ideology is founded on a basic disdain for government, governing gets subordinated to scoring political points, handing friends cushy jobs, funneling money to the well-connected. You can draw a straight line from Ronald Reagan’s declaration that ‘government is the problem’ to the U.S. attorneys firings, to political hirings at the Justice Department, to corruption and drugs in the Interior Department, to waste, fraud, abuse, and no-bid contracts in Iraq—all the way to ‘heck of a job, Brownie.’ I won’t pretend that abuses don’t happen on both sides. But I do argue that they will be much more egregious on the side with contempt for government in its political DNA, and the past years have borne me out.
“That is my view of the last eight years, years in which conservatives have piled up a comprehensive legacy of failure. And I think there’s one very good reason to take this look back: Not to point fingers, but to point the best way forward. We learn which pledges of change to trust—which is important at a time when everyone and his uncle is promising it.
“In the end, the facts Americans see in their lives, every day, are far more persuasive than any speech or TV ad. Ultimately, I don’t think it was any argument of ours that swung the last election. It was the record itself.
“Since then, we have compiled a record that I will stake against the other party’s, any day.
“We implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to make our country stronger.
“We created a 21st-century GI Bill to guarantee a college education for all of our veterans.
“We provided more for veterans’ healthcare than at any time in the seven-decade history of the VA.
“We raised the minimum wage for the first time in more than a decade.
“We passed the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.
“To confront this recession head-on, Democrats passed an economic stimulus package and a landmark housing rescue and regulatory bill.
“After years of Republican neglect, we passed comprehensive GSE and subprime lending reform through the House in April 2007, but failed to enact it until just a few months ago.
“On energy, we boosted fuel efficiency standards for the first time in more than 30 years. Just last week, the House passed an energy package to help bring down the price of gas immediately, expand domestic drilling, and invest in new energy technologies.
“With a President Obama in the White House, we’re going to build on that record. We’re going to continue to invest in new energy, to break our oil addiction and provide a real alternative to the high price of gas. We’re going to bring back common-sense regulation to keep Wall Street honest, to avoid further financial crisis, and to protect individual investors and taxpayers. We’re going to put the focus back where it belongs—on working Americans.
“In the end, all Democrats want is to be judged on the work we’ve done, and on the work we still intend to do. I invite anyone to challenge that record—but if the people of this country are going to have meaningful choices, that challenge needs to take place on the common ground of the facts.
“Others may have their own promises, their own slogans, their own newfound devotion to change. But luckily for the rest of us, they don’t get their own facts.”