Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), a candidate for Speaker of the United States House of Representatives against House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview exactly how he plans to reform Congress.
“I have one desire: That is to have a principle-based, member-driven Congress. Period. That’s what I want,” Webster said via phone over the weekend.
Really, right now, the default of every legislative body I’ve been to—and I’ve been to a lot of them—is a power-based system as opposed to principle-based. That works too, you can do it that way where a few people at the top of the pyramid make all of the decisions. We’d rather see a flattened down pyramid of power and spread out the base so every member has an opportunity to be successful.
Webster, the former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives before his election to the U.S. House, ran against Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) at the beginning of this Congress. He was nearly successful in forcing the race to a second ballot, which would have ultimately in all likelihood cost Boehner his speakership. But Boehner survived to begin this Congress, and as Boehner has failed throughout the year he has lost more and more support among Republicans to the point where he has resigned to avoid an vote to oust him.
Webster, along with McCarthy, have declared their candidacies for the Speakership.
Webster says he wants to substantively change the way business is done by pushing power out of the Speaker’s office out to the American people. McCarthy has yet to lay out for the public how he would do business if elected, but initial indications show that McCarthy will likely have to cooperate with the more conservative wing of the conference if he wants to survive in leadership.
Conservatives, through Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s House Freedom Caucus and Iowa Rep. Steve King’s Conservative Opportunity Society, have enough votes to deny anyone who won’t cooperate with them the Speakership. They do not, however, have enough votes to elect a conservative as Speaker of the House. But that doesn’t mean their power, used smartly as both major collectives of conservatives have indicated they will do, can’t influence the process.
Webster views his plan for making a member-driven, principle-based system rather than a power-based system as much better for the long haul for a troubled Congress.
“In doing that, it creates—not only do you push down the pyramid of power, but you also create an opportunity to make decisions based on principle,” Webster told Breitbart News.
If you don’t, power and principle cannot co-exist. You can either have one, or you can have the other. But not both. Principle says it’s not who put forth an idea. It’s not the position of the person who put forth an idea, it’s not the longevity of the person or the party of the person. That’s not what it is at all. In a power system, that’s the way it works. But in a principle system, it’s what it says. So an idea is judged on what an item, a bill, an amendment—whatever it is—says as opposed to who the sponsor is.
Webster laid out for Breitbart News how, as Speaker of the Florida House, he did exactly what is aiming to do in the U.S. House.
“I changed that system in Florida when I was the Speaker of the House—I was the Minority Leader, I saw for 16 years the way a power system works,” Webster said.
We’d wait until the last day or two and then we’d put forward the only option there is and then everybody has to stomach it—and you’ve got to run these created exponential train wrecks. And they’re done purposefully to create the outcome you want it to be. A principle system says, ‘no, you know what we ought to do? We ought to do the most important issues first rather than wait until the end so there is more time to vet the issues.’ And in the end what happens? You have a much better policy with less unintended consequences because there’s more eyes, more opportunities, more discussion, more amendments, more debate—all of those things lead to a more principled approach to every issue. That’s it. That’s what I’d like to do. That’s totally different from where we are right now.
Webster said that everyone from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans—ranging from Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) to Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)—can attest to the success of his vision for the House should run.
“I think you could ask Debbie Wasserman Schultz and I think you could ask Bill Posey—both of whom were there [when I was Florida House Speaker]—I think they both would tell you the same thing. It could work,” Webster said.
To succeed in leading this way, Webster says, it’s all about dealing with major problems up front—rather than waiting until deadlines to handle the nation’s most pressing issues. That means no more crisis to crisis governance, the style of leadership Boehner used to employ. That starts with the appropriations process and getting the government off these wild ride omnibus spending bills and Continuing Resolutions that kick the can down the road.
“The key is to take up the most important issues first. Instead of squandering the first hundred days, if we began with the Appropriations process—we began with the Appropriations process, that’s number one. If you’re an Appropriations Committee member, you’d work day and night,” Webster said.
You’re going to work hard—they do work hard now, but they’re going to have to work harder up front. They’re going to have to produce bills. And as you’re producing them, you’re going to tell the Senate that there’s not going to be any CRs—there’s not going to be any CRs. That’s our position, get ready to negotiate with conferees. Keep pushing and pushing, as the bills come out get ready to go. That’s the Appropriations process—and I think that the earlier you do it, the more opportunity you have to come up with a conference-able bill.
Secondly, Webster says, it’s about taking up reauthorization bills early and then getting them into the best possible shape before sending them to the Senate and eventually to the president.
“Second, there are so many things that run to the edge which are the reauthorizations. They go right to the edge and finally you do a CR there,” Webster said.
Somehow, it’s 10 or 15 or 20 years before you do anything right after all these short term extensions. Instead, we ought to lay out a plan and say okay, here’s the ones we should do right away. Some might take longer. But you lay out a plan and say a three-year plan or a two-year plan and say this is what we can do. We can do the transportation packages like the highway bill and the water bill and we can do some of these other areas—a farm bill—whatever it is, we lay out a schedule and we put that committee to work to do that. And in the end there’s a stick—and the stick is we’re going to enforce the rule. You cannot fund a provision that has not been reauthorized. If you don’t put it in place now, and you wait and say if you don’t get them done by this day and this time, then we’re going to enforce it. And I think that becomes the stick phase to get this done.
Thirdly, Webster said, Congress needs to return to regular order where member bills are taken up in committees and there aren’t new rules written for every bill—like what has happened under Boehner’s leadership—so the process is fair to everyone.
“And then thirdly, you begin with the committees meeting and taking up member bills using the current rules as opposed to meeting and writing rules, passing a rule for one bill, voting on the rule for one bill then taking up the bill and debating that, maybe amendments maybe not depending on how controversial it is and then finally we vote on whatever amendments there are plus the bill,” Webster said.
Instead, you follow the rules that just say the bills that come out of committee, the chairman picks out the important ones and you start with the ‘A’ which I guess would be Agriculture. And you get a bill and as you move through them in alphabetical order, and you get actual bills coming out of committee then you vote them and then you start all over again. You begin running through member bills. Those three things are allowed when you have a plan up front and you have a schedule for all these authorizations that need to take place.
Webster said these principles-driven rather than power-driven solutions to a broken Congress are “only a novel idea because we don’t do it that way.”
“But it’s really—people talk about regular order,” Webster said. “You combine all of those things, some people talk about regular order on one bill. We’re talking about regular order for the entire session and that’s what it would be.”
Webster aims to have, within 100 days of being elected Speaker should he get the job, most of this done.
“I want to do a good portion of what I just said within 100 days,” Webster said.
He said this should be very easy for members to support, and the only reason anyone hangs on to the old way of doing business is because Boehner’s way was “institutionalized.”
“The reason the other system is easy to hold onto is because it’s been institutionalized,” Webster said. “It’s not just the members, it’s the institution itself. It’s become lethargic and it’s become power-based and it’s become adopted as the status quo. And so, you’re not just fighting individual members in certain positions—you’re fighting the institution itself. But it’s the right thing to do.”
Webster knows he is the underdog against McCarthy, but could pull out a victory should the American people rise up yet again—or should McCarthy aim to resort back to business as usual. McCarthy could nip any challenge in the bud by making significant concessions to conservatives, things he’s not yet formally done though he has—sources tell Breitbart News—made significant efforts to make inroads with conservatives in the early stages of this process.
“I realize that there is—that I would start at a disadvantage, because I don’t have a position now,” Webster said. “But I believe in what I just told you. I have the opportunity to promote that and I hope I can—but calling is it. You have to call—and that’s a big explanation, what I just gave you, to get people to support you but I’m still pressing on.”
When asked if the public can help him with this long shot bid to fix Congress, Webster said yes—if people call their Congressmen and “tell them to vote for Daniel Webster.”
“Tell them to vote for a member-driven, principles-based process. I think I’m the only one promoting that—actually, I’m sure I am,” Webster said.