Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, also known as Senator Tea Party due to his strong connection to this political movement, appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace to discuss congressional earmarks, the deficit, as well as his presidential ambitions.
The interview started with a question about the White House’s offer to extend the Bush era tax cuts on the wealthy. DeMint said that there was no room for a compromise on the tax cuts but that an extension of just two or three years might be acceptable to Republicans.
Many Republicans in Congress, including DeMint, have advocated an earmark ban for many months but not all of their leaders have been equally forthcoming. Mitch McConnell in particular, the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, has so far refused to commit to reform. On Fox Sunday, DeMint remarked that earmarks weren’t just a Tea Party issue but an American one. “Right now we’ve got over five hundred congressmen and senators who are in Washington who think it’s their job to bring home the bacon,” he said. “And that takes your eye off the ball.” DeMint was confident that this message has been received by those in the legislature.
We can’t spend all our time trying to rob the federal treasury to get money for our states and congressional districts and still be serious about the big issues like reforming our tax code and fixing Social Security and Medicare.
The senator was similarly confident that he could find the votes to pass an earmark ban. “You would see spending come down dramatically if you took out all the self-interest that earmarks represent,” he argued. As he pointed out on Meet the Press last week, John Boehner, who is likely to succeed Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House next year, has already committed to an earmark moratorium. “We’re not going to have earmarks,” he said then, “so it’s really silly for some senior Republicans in the Senate to try and block it.”
Asked whether his position wasn’t hypocritical, seeing as DeMint used to vote for earmarks, the senator described himself as a “recovering earmarker,” thankful of the “support groups” that now exist all over the country. “We call them Tea Parties,” he joked.
DeMint gained national notoriety during the end of the Bush Administration with his opposition to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Three months later he also voted against the $814 billion dollar stimulus package. These actions as well as his opposition to earmarks have made him a household name. There is even talk of DeMint being in the race for the Republican presidential candidacy in 2012.
Moderator Chris Wallace asked him about that and if DeMint thought that he was too far to the right to be a contender. The senator didn’t think so. “I think this election shows that my views of balancing the checkbook are not radical at all,” he said, referring to the Republicans’ impressive gains in this month’s midterm elections. “Americans want us to cut spending and debt,” he added. “And I think they want us to return the role of the federal government back to more of a limited constitutional role.”
DeMint is not just a small-government conservative however. As he told Fox News two weeks ago, “you can’t be a fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative.” He blamed the expansion of government, at least in part, on society being “dysfunctional” and American culture “falling apart.” The senator is in fact regarded as one of the most conservative members of the upper chamber, supportive of school prayer, opposed to abortion and adamantly opposed to legalizing gay marriage which he fears could have “costly secondary consequences” due to the prevalence of certain diseases among homosexuals.
Despite his popularity with tea partiers, DeMint said to have “no plans” to run for president in 2012. “I’m looking for someone who will have the courage and leadership abilities to come out and make the hard decisions that we need to turn this country away from a cliff,” he said.