Rep. Roy Blunt, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, sharply criticizes the rescue plan for the housing industry that President Bush says he would sign into law, argues that energy prices will become an even more dominant political issue, and plays down predictions that his party will lose more seats in Congress.
At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters Thursday, the House minority whip explained why he voted against a far-reaching housing plan whose passage had been urged by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Just 45 of the 199 Republicans in the House voted for the measure, which cleared the House Wednesday by a vote of 272 to 152. It would give the Treasury Department greatly strengthened powers to help prevent the collapse of mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“We missed a huge opportunity to really restructure these [government-sponsored enterprises] in a way that ... would minimize the potential for this same kind of problem in the future. I don’t think we did that,” said Representative Blunt, who represents Missouri’s seventh Congressional District. “We have actually almost ensured the same kind of problem will come again sometime in the future.”
Blunt and many of his fellow Republicans objected to the nearly $4 billion the legislation included for grants that would enable local governments to buy and refurbish foreclosed homes. A new housing finance regulator the bill establishes also “could have been a lot stronger,” Blunt said.
At Thursday morning’s session with reporters, Blunt also spoke about energy. “The gas crisis is about to turn into an energy crisis [in] the next six months. Some of it will happen before the election,” he said. House Republicans rolled out a new energy plan Wednesday that includes a call for additional drilling offshore and in the Arctic Coastal Plain.
Blunt’s view is that voters will pay increased attention to energy issues when they are faced with higher prices to fill oil or propane tanks for winter heating. The energy situation “is now very much focused on gasoline,” he said. “It will be focused on energy, and there will be real desire to solve these problems. And I think we are going to see some gain because of that.”
If voters do begin to more actively favor Republicans on energy issues because of their pro-drilling stance, it will represent a change. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, voters gave Democrats a 20 point advantage when asked which party is best equipped to deal with energy matters.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report (no relation to this story’s writer) is currently forecasting a Democratic net gain in the House of between 12 and 17 seats in the 2008 election. Blunt was unwilling to concede the inevitability of a net loss. “You would have a hard time really finding five of those [GOP] open seats that we are going to lose. There are more than five Democrats in trouble,” he said. “I am not prepared to think that the trends are not in our direction.”
Missouri, Blunt’s home state, has been a bellwether in national elections, picking the winner every year since 1904 with the exception of 1956. As for the outlook in this year’s presidential election, “Rural conservative areas will vote for John McCain and in big numbers,” he said. “[Barack] Obama will have a hard time closing in our state, really making the final sale that yes, this guy is ready to be president.” But he added that “Missouri is competitive.”