12:00 pm. Jim Ramstad’s speech today is entitled “Life as a Centrist in the New Congress.” Ramstad has touted his moderate, centrist credentials in recent years, and there is evidence in his voting record to bolster this claim. In 2006, the Republican congressman was rated fairly dead center — the 199th most liberal and 231st most conservative member of Congress by National Journal.
12:10. Ramstad’s power ranking was #247, as determined by Congress.org. Ramstad begins his speech by touting Minnesota’s independent, centrist pedigree. Ramstad recounts how after the November 2006 election, when Democrats took control of the House, he received several phone calls from prominent Democrats who expressed how they wished to work with him during the coming session. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, Health Subcommittee and Oversight Committee.
12:15 pm. The Congressman has been a strong advocate of health and chemical dependence funding issues, as well as veteran’s issues. Ramstad served in the U.S. Army Reserves.
12:20 pm. Ramstad remarks about the bipartisanship that was demonstrated in the House after the I-35W bridge collapse earlier this month. The Congressman lists some of the bipartisan legislation on which he has worked. For example, Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Ramstad co-sponsored a bill permitting Liberian residents to stay in the United States (Ramstad’s district hosts the second biggest Liberian community in the country). Overall, Ramstad seems to be painting the level of bipartisanship in the House with a positive tone, recounting the common ground Democrats and Republicans share. It will be interesting to see whether or not the audience asks Ramstad questions about the level of partisan rancor which seems to dominate politics today.
12:30 pm. Ramstad notes an average of 62 Republicans voted with the Democrats first 6 bills passed during the Democrat’s first “100 hours” after they took control in 2007. The Congressman calls the Democrat-led minimum wage increase as “long overdue.” Ramstad becomes impassioned when describing his support for federally funded stem cell research and derides Republicans who politicize the issue by conflating it with abortion.
12:35 pm. Ramstad states there is a political price to pay for being a centrist. He remarks he – and other GOP moderates – will be left out of the Party’s leadership positions. Ramstad is a member of the “Tuesday group” — GOP moderates who meet to strategize how they will use their voting bloc.
12:40 pm. Ramstad was one of three dozen Republicans to vote against the President’s “No Child Left Behind” program. He states there was more pressure on him to vote with his party on that issue in all his 27 years of legislative experience.
12:45 pm. Ramstad lists the top priorities facing the country including health care, child hunger, chemical dependence, and education. Among these is global warming, which the Congressman states “Is real.” He states these problems are too big to govern with politics as usual. Ramstads states “We must govern from the center whenever possible.”
12:50 pm. In a question and answer session, Ramstad explains that bipartisanship is not discussed much by members of Congress because they do not want to alienate their base. When asked why he supports so many programs that call for the increased role of government, Ramstad explains there are three roles of government: 1) To make people safe. 2) To provide services that are best provided collectively, ad 3) To help those who cannot help themselves.
12:55 pm. When asked how he reconciles being a tax-cutter and also an advocate for increased social programs, Ramstad acknowledges his support for tax cuts – claiming the 2003 tax cuts saved a few million jobs. He specifically address how the government will pay for these social programs, however, so the moderator, Center Director Larry Jacobs, asks the question a second time. Ramstad claims there is enough waste in the federal government’s budget to pay for them.
1:05 pm. On Iraq, Ramstad wishes to codify the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommendations. Ramstad was one of 10 moderate Republicans who went to the White House a few months ago to tell the president they were not happy with the direction of the Iraq war and, partiuclarly, how the Iraqi government was governing (not meeting benchmarks etc.). Ramstad is against setting a date for the withdrawl of troops, and he says Congress should not “micro manage the war.”