One of the most remarkable stories of election 2006 was the success that Democrats had establishing themselves as advocates of fiscal responsibility, lower spending, and limited government. A poll conducted by the Club for Growth on the weekend before the election found that voters believed, by a 3-to-2 margin, that Republicans had become the party of big government. Democrats captured the House of Representatives on a message of fiscal conservatism. Yet four of New Jersey’s Republican (in name only) congressmen have learned precisely the wrong lesson from the election, and lurched to the left on economic issues.
In vote after economic vote, the new self-styled conservative House Democrats have voted in lockstep with their far-left party leadership. The first order of business was to establish new budget rules that nearly guarantee tax hikes by putting so-called pay-as-you-go rules in place. It only took Democrats a week to go ahead and raise taxes. New Jersey Republicans joining them in voting for higher taxes: Reps. Mike Ferguson (R-Warren Township), Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor), Jim Saxton (R-Mount Holly), and Chris Smith (R-Hamilton).
The vehicle was an energy bill that raised the corporate income tax rate just for that one industry. Economists are nearly unanimous that higher taxes on oil companies discourage domestic oil production and raise prices throughout the supply-chain, ultimately raising the price at the pump for consumers. Yet four of New Jersey’s Republicans, who should know better, voted for the bill.
The most egregious example yet of putting special interest politics above economically sound policy came with the vote last week on the shamelessly named Employee Free Choice Act. This bill eliminates the secret ballot for union organization, replacing it with a card-check process in which workers would be openly subject to pressure by co-workers and union officials to sign up after hearing just the pro-union side. The sharp decline in private sector union membership, from 20.1 percent in 1980 to just 7.4 percent in 2006, has coincided with a prolonged period of booming economic growth and rising standards of living.
If unions cannot appeal to workers in federally supervised secret ballot elections then those workers should remain non-union. The card-check procedure presents a risk that workers, stripped of privacy protections, may be compelled to accept unions that they don’t want. The public opposes the bill by overwhelming margins, in excess of 80 percent in most polls, and even union members oppose the bill by strong majorities. By forcing workers into unions that are aggressively anti-business, the bill could cause severe job losses and economic damage.
Nonetheless, all but two Democrats voted for the bill, including all seven from New Jersey. Party loyalty and campaign contributions from organized labor trumped the wishes of their constituents and their own promises of economic conservatism. Even worse, however, those same four Republicans€”Ferguson, LoBiondo, Saxton, and Smith€”joined the Democrats, voting to take away the right of workers to have a secret ballot.
All of these members, especially the Republicans, need to feel the heat from back home on these votes. Otherwise they will feel emboldened to pursue an unfettered agenda of high taxes, higher spending, and more costly regulation without fear of retribution. Card-check, which sailed through the House despite overwhelming public opposition, will be a key test of how far the new Democrat majority and their Republican allies can push the envelope. Constituents who want economic growth and prosperity must start to push back.