Looking at Lankford: A freshman member of Congress becomes a player

Reviewing news stories (newspapers, radio, television) featuring U.S. Rep. James Lankford provides an outline of his priorities in the U.S. House, and his emerging impact in national debates on a wide range of issues. 

The Oklahoma City Republican is best known as an ardent economic conservative, but his influence reaches beyond that after just a few months in office. 

When his colleague, Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren of Muskogee, announced this week that he would not seek reelection in 2012, Lankford sent this statement to CapitolBeatOK:

 “Dan works incredibly hard for the 2nd District of Oklahoma. He has shown immense dedication as he has traveled across his district to connect. He listens and learns from his constituents in an effort to better represent them. During my short five months in office, I have seen firsthand how he has kept his focus on Oklahoma. I wish Dan and his family all the best as they transition back into private life.”

When May unemployment data was released on June 3, Lankford immediately focused on President Obama’s deficiencies, as he views them, in stewardship of the nation:
“The notion that we can spend, regulate and tax our way to prosperity is as much a flawed idea today as it was two years ago. When will the Obama Administration learn that you cannot grow the economy while suppressing community banking, energy production, health care, international trade, insurance and thousands of other private industries? 

“President Obama claimed that the stimulus was a success because of the jobs that were ‘saved.’ But it has been more than two years since the plan was enacted, and the time has long since passed to claim that maintaining the size of government is a successful economic policy. To continue to prop up the public sector as a replacement for a lack of private sector job growth only covers up the problem, and is not a sustainable path back to a robust economy.

“Anemic employment numbers month after month [are] not satisfactory for the many millions of Americans looking for jobs. We can only cure this problem and put people back to work by enabling the private sector, which is the true driver of economic growth. This administration should incentivize businesses not block their progress.”

With fellow Republican U.S. Rep. John Sullivan of Tulsa, Lankford has devoted some of his considerable energy to countering the president’s controversial executive order giving labor unions advantages over open shop employers in government construction work. Last Friday, in a practical approach to the matter, Lankford conducted a hearing in the Rayburn Building to boost the Government Neutrality in Contracting Act, House Resolution 735.

Some of his pointed remarks aimed at the Obama administration and the president’s congressional allies have focused on Medicare and Social Security issues, including a defense of Illinois U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s vision for a new approach to health care funding and provision. Lankford was among leaders of the group of GOP freshmen who went before reporters on the House triangle after last month’s release of the trustees report for the two systems.

Lankford on that occasion declared, “[I]f the President and Congressional Democrats continue to demonize those who are working for reform, their inactivity is a decision to end Medicare and Social Security and bankrupt our country in the process. Indeed, there will be no Medicare or Social Security for future generations if we do nothing. We cannot maintain the status quo. [The] trustees report is a sobering reminder about this predictable crisis that we see on the horizon though many continue to do nothing about.”

Lankford brings to debates a seriousness of purpose that is not always characteristic of his colleagues. 

As what Republicans deemed “Mediscare” rhetoric from Democrats in the House ratcheted up, Lankford stuck to his guns, and took the fight to advocates of the status quo: 

“People in politics only think about right now. They never do forward thinking; they never look out upon the horizon and solve the problems we all know are coming. This is an issue we all know is coming, and we will have serious votes on it in the days to come. 

“We are saying, ‘Let’s do it now while there is time to think, strategize, and plan. Rather than four or five years from now when Medicare is even worse than it is, and we are in panic mode trying to resolve it.’ This is the time to have that kind of conversation to be able to resolve it.

“I go back to my own copy of the President’s State of the Union speech…I heard him say, ‘We need to deal with Medicare, Medicaid…the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.’ He also made a statement that said, ‘I am still willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs including ones that Republicans brought up last year.’ 

“This is a moment for us to be able to say, ‘Mr. President, you said these were serious ideas. You said this was a moment we need to have this discussion. We agree.’

“All the statements that are being put out there about this are saying it is a voucher. The Democrats know full well this is not a voucher…they know full well it is premium support. They know very well these are issues we were trying to solve in the Budget Committee. It is not some radical and extreme proposal; this is a way to stabilize things long-term. They know full well this does not change anything for seniors 55 and older. 

“So all the statements trying to scare people and turn them off to it, I just smile, look at it, and I say, ‘Typically, when you don’t think a proposal is serious, you ignore it. When you think it is serious and a threat, you yell at it and attack it as hard as you can.’ We feel the attack; we understand what is going on. What we are saying is, ‘Let’s get past all the attacks and get on to the serious business.’”

This spring, Boren and Lankford were part of the 238-183 House majority that voted to repeal the health care exchange requirement laced throughout the federal health care law passed in 2010. 

Earlier, just after income tax returns were submitted nationwide, Lankford argued passionately for lower (and simpler) federal taxes. He also defended the House GOP budget for making “a huge dent in the runaway spending coming out of Washington. It makes dramatic spending cuts and protects Medicare and Medicaid for future generations. More importantly, this plan puts us on a path to a balanced budget and a way to pay off the debt. 

“We have big problems, for which we need bold solutions. This budget gives our country an opportunity to grow our economy, to get our fiscal house in order, and to ensure future generations will still have a path to prosperity.”

In his first 100 days through mid-April, Lankford had already voted (three times) to repeal “ObamaCare,” backed efforts to restore the Opportunity Scholarship (school choice) program the previous Congress had killed in the nation’s capital city, and pressured for reform of loan policies at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

Now, he has cast several hundred votes, delivered countless floor speeches, held a few dozen “town hall” exchanges around the Fifth District, answered thousands of emails, and visited with troops preparing to deploy in the war on terror. In the next few months, he anticipates deeper study of foreign policy and foreign aid issues. 

In news parlance, he is a “good interview.” He is responsive to questions which journalists actually ask, and not merely deft at repeating talking points. 

For such reasons, The Wall Street Journal and the Tecumseh Countywide News and Sun, The City Sentinel and The Washington Times, CapitolBeatOK and MSNBC, The New York Times and National Review, and the various news stations — all have sought his responses to important issues as accurately reflecting the center-right perspective now dominant in the House of Representatives. 

So, stay tuned, for more from James Lankford.