Rep. Dennis Rehberg says he wants to keep his job as Montana's only congressman. Why should he? A look at his record shows he's not an effective policymaker for Montana.
In fact, Rehberg's record shows he is a reliable foot soldier for the "Party of No."
How did Rehberg vote on stopping insurance companies from denying health coverage for pre-existing conditions? "No." "No" on cutting taxes on small businesses. "No" against freezing his salary when he voted against the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. "Yes" when he gave himself a pay raise - and he's one of the wealthiest members of Congress.
Dennis Rehberg said "no" to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but posted an article (July 23, 2009) on his website claiming a lack of a "sense of urgency" getting stimulus funds to Montana "while jobs hang in the balance."
Last year, Rehberg voted "No" on 10 out of 12 appropriations bills. These bills fund critical infrastructure and create jobs for Montanans. Even though the national debt has been skyrocketing since 2001, it was the first time Rehberg ever voted against a spending bill. Rehberg told the Clark Fork Chronicle, he "was criticized by some for voting against Montana projects."
But that's not why he was criticized. Rehberg was criticized because after voting "No" on these bills, he sent news releases - lots of them - boasting to Montanans about all the money he "secured" in the bills. He showed up at ribbon cuttings - like the one for Missoula's Poverello Center, days after voting against the very bill that funded it.
This year, Rehberg followed his party leaders suddenly agreeing to a one-year ban on appropriations funding for Montana jobs and infrastructure - earmarks. This announcement came after weeks of Rehberg accepting earmark requests for important Montana infrastructure projects such as highways and hospitals.
Rehberg's announcement caught many Montanans off guard because earlier he told the Great Falls Tribune "earmarks are not the problem," adding, correctly, that transparent earmarks "direct money that already exists within the program to a particular area, because who knows their district more than we do?"
But Rehberg followed his leaders' orders anyway. Now he wants Montanans to believe "No" on earmarks saves money. He's wrong. Banning transparent earmarks doesn't save money. In fact, it shifts money for critical projects like water and road infrastructure, crime fighting and Malmstrom Air Force Base out of Montana - and back to urban coastal states.
Rehberg claims he supports Montana jobs and infrastructure, but votes "no" because they're part of "runaway spending." You simply can't support funding Montana projects and be against spending... unless you print more money.
That's exactly what happened under Rehberg's watch.
When Rehberg took office on Jan. 3, 2001, our national debt clocked in at $5.7 trillion. By the time President George W. Bush left office on Jan. 20, 2009, the national debt had nearly doubled to $10,626,877,048,913.08. Since Jan. 3, 2001,Congress' pay increased by nearly 20 percent. Contrast this with Sen. Jon Tester's first year in office - the first year Congress decided to forego a pay raise.
After voting "no," Rehberg says he has better ideas. But if he does, he hasn't managed to turn them into real policy. Or he just hasn't taken initiative.
Take Rehberg's stand on Sen. Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
Earlier this year-six months after Sen. Tester introduced the bill and after nine years in Congress - Rehberg suddenly became interested in this important issue. He had years to champion the cause of improving forest management. He even admits the effort is "commendable."
But instead of taking initiative, or trying to find common ground and work together to create jobs, Rehberg did nothing for years and then, once again, said "no" when Sen. Jon Tester proposed a bill that will create jobs for Montanans.
Standing up for Montana takes more than being "Congressman No." It means having the courage to disagree with the extreme wings of your party. It means getting something done for Montanans instead of organizing political stunts for press headlines. It means you get something done in Washington to help Montanans, instead of spinning your record at home.
Unfortunately, Rehberg doesn't do those things. Montana deserves a Congressman who does.
Jim Hunt practices law in Helena and is a retired Montana Army National Guard lieutenant colonel. In 2008, he ran unsuccessfully to be the Democratic Party's nominee for U.S. House.