WASHINGTON-For the second weekend in a row, thousands of the nation's conservatives are invading what they now call enemy territory: Washington, D.C. And just like at last week's protest march on the U.S. Capitol, for those attending this weekend's Values Voter Summit, the federal government is public enemy No. 1.
More specifically, the conference has cast as its villain the recent explosion of the federal government. Speaker after speaker here savored every chance to highlight the accelerated path to governmental growth taken by federal lawmakers, beginning with February's $787 economic stimulus package. Not surprisingly then, the main topic of discussion during day one of the Family Research Council-sponsored event has been the latest and biggest push for more government: ongoing efforts to pass a nearly $1 trillion healthcare overhaul.
Former Republican presidential candidate and current television host Mike Huckabee kick-started Friday's pep rally inside a packed Omni Shoreham convention room. Huckabee, who said he has not decided if another run at national office is in his future, argued that President Obama's "audacity of hope" campaign has evolved into an "audacity of hypocrisy" administration.
A trio of House Republicans then took the stage to preach against the current healthcare legislation.
"The only question you have to ask in any of these bills is who will have more control of your healthcare-the government or you?" asked Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, who got the day's biggest "oohs and ahhs" from the crowd after explaining that the Internal Revenue Service would be the main enforcement agency if current healthcare legislation becomes law.
The House lawmakers warned that the bills would unleash a "culture of death" by allowing the federal government to subsidize abortions. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey challenged House leaders to back up claims that the healthcare bill would not fund abortions by inserting language in the bill that would explicitly exclude such practices. Otherwise, he warned, the door will be open for government officials to include the procedure as part of the federally approved minimum insurance plan that individuals would have to purchase under a proposed insurance mandate.
Analyzing the current state of the federal government, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said the nation is on the verge of the greatest government encroachment in generations.
"This debate isn't about healthcare, it's about freedom," said Price, who also joined other speakers in ridiculing liberal depictions of last month's town hall protestors as being unpatriotic. "I'm proud to be in a room full of patriots."
Friday's headliners pointed to the recent votes in Congress to stop federal funding of the controversial community-organizing group ACORN as proof that the recent spate of public protests are working.
"The reason they are doing this is clear," explained Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in referring to the negative depictions of ongoing healthcare protests. "We are winning the argument."
The chorus of lawmakers taking the podium mainly stuck to signing the same tune, heralding social conservative issues like preserving the sanctity of life and marriage and criticizing the current Democratic majority. All this was done with an eye toward the 2010 mid-term elections-a date that the lawmakers did not fail to mention whenever attendees asked what could be done to slow the government's growth.
"America's credit card is maxed out," preached Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican. While Cantor did admit that Republicans lost control of Washington by overspending, he quickly added, "Democrats in just nine months have made us look like Ebenezer Scrooge on welfare."
It's a lesson-lawmakers here seemed to be pleading to the crowd-Republicans will not need to learn twice if given another chance to take the reigns in 2010. That remains to be seen. In the meantime, these conservatives are itching for a healthcare fight.