|Congressman Bill Shuster|
Small government activists like Matt Kibbe, CEO of FreedomWorks, expect Democrats to freely spend taxpayers’ money on big government solutions to contemporary problems. They don’t expect, and won’t tolerate, Republican politicians in Washington pushing for passage of money bills that attract Democratic support. One such Republican is Bill Shuster, a Congressman from the 9th District in Pennsylvania, now is his seventh term. Shuster chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is the focus of conservative criticism for working with Democrats to produce HR 3080 – authorizing $8.2 billion over a period of ten years to finance Army Corps of Engineer waterway projects. According to Shuster the bill actually saves money by cutting red tape and reducing bureaucratic logjams, replacing an antiquated, inefficient process of maintaining the nation’s inland waterways and harbors. Additionally the bill saves $12 billion, according to its backers, by deauthorizing a number of previous projects. The measure passed Wednesday in the House by a 417 to 3 vote.
The most egregious sin for Tea Party types was Bill Shuster’s voting ‘ yes’ on the bipartisan plan to restart the government and raise the current debt ceiling but plans had already been made to run a more conservative candidate against him in the upcoming 2014 Republican primary. Art Halvorson, a commercial real estate broker, is the individual with the best chance of unseating Shuster next year. His views fall in line with Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s beliefs that the Republicans need not have caved to the Democrats had they remained united in both the House and Senate. Halvorson feels the long-term good of the nation would have been better served by continuing the fight even if it meant breaking through the debt ceiling. From his perspective there were sufficient funds to continue paying the interest on the nation’s debt. Former Republican Representative Jim Ryun of Kansas has endorsed Halvorson and his Washington based fund-raising organization, The Madison Project, has already spent money on TV ads in the district, attacking Shuster as a big-spending establishment insider that just doesn't get it.
Anticipating a likely primary challenge next year Congressman Shuster has amassed two million dollars to date in his campaign war chest. He is not without powerful friends and he continues to be a magnet for large cash donations from trade groups and big business. The US Chamber of Commerce has continuously supported Shuster’s efforts as chairman of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. They are on record as saying he is committed to the best interest of business, encouraging new opportunities for private investment and working to decrease government regulation. But what seems good enough for companies like Boeing Corporation and US Steel are, to Shuster’s detractors, just more of the same pork-barrel politics Washington has been guilty of ever since Franklin Roosevelt swept into office in 1932.
The coming contest for the Congressional seat representing the conservative countryside around Altoona, Pennsylvania is just one of a number of likely primaries that may well determine the direction of the Republican Party for years to come. Will it continue as the party of business, whose economic interests sometimes come in conflict with the passionate impulses of grassroots Republicans, or will it purify itself of moderating voices and work vigorously to shift the center of power back, once again, towards the states? What is clear is that the Republican Party cannot afford to break into two parties, both competing on a national level for the same conservative vote. This is not the first time a national party has waged a war within its own ranks, between those most concerned with ideology and others who placed greater importance on electability. It was Bill Clinton’s 1991 campaign for the presidency that forced a fractured, left-leaning Democratic Party back toward the center because party leaders came to recognize that a glass half-full was better than having no glass at all. It is likely that Republicans, prior to 2016, will come to the same understanding.