WASHINGTON - Mississippi governor and potential 2012 GOP presidential contender Haley Barbour argued at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday that the conservative agenda "is America's agenda," telling an audience of conservative activists, "the average American agrees with us."
Barbour called the 2010 midterm election the "greatest repudiation of the policies of a president and a party in American history," suggesting that the Democratic governing philosophy is "profoundly at odds with America's founding principles." He said the Obama administration has been catering to "the pent-up demands of every frustrated liberal at the expense of the public good."
Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman and the chair of the Republican Governor's Association, also sought to lower expectations for what the GOP majority in the House can achieve. He said Republicans control just one half of one third of the federal government.
He said that while Republicans "can stop the worst excesses of exhausted liberalism" at the moment, "we can't today do what needs to be done for our country." That's why, Barbour said, the roughly 11,000 activists gathered in Washington for the conference must focus on getting a Republican president elected in 2012 as well as winning back the Senate.
Barbour, a lobbyist and Washington power broker, mocked the notion that the Tea Party is out of the mainstream. He said Americans "want responsible government, one that respects the limits of government enshrined in our Constitution." Barbour added that if Republicans fail to deliver on their promises of a government committed to respecting personal responsibility and other conservative principles, the party will be "defeated as quickly as the Democrats, and we'll deserve to be."
Barbour's speech, like many at the conference, focused largely on the deficit. He argued that "wreckless" Obama administration policies have brought America "to a crossroads." While he acknowledged that both Republican and Democratic administrations have been responsible for raising the national debt, he said "it's gotten a whole lot worse in the last two years."
"Friends, our problem is not that we tax to little, it's that we spend too much," Barbour said. He argued that the private sector must create jobs, stating that it's important to "never forget a bigger government means a smaller economy."
The Mississippi governor added that "in the liberal ideology every dollar earned belongs to the government. They believe reducing taxes is some kind of government giveaway to the taxpayers."
"The federal government can't spend itself rich," he told the crowd.
Barbour also targeted the Obama administration energy policy, which he said is actually an environmental policy in disguise.
"The Obama energy policy is driving up costs and it is not by accident," Barbour said, suggesting that the administration's goal is "to increase the price of energy to make Americans use less of it."
Barbour touched briefly on social issues, stressing his efforts in opposition to abortion rights. He also spent a portion of his speech pointing to how costs can be contained through responsible governance, suggesting, for example, that Medicare fraud can be reduced by making recipients re-register every year.
Barbour is one of several Republicans considering a presidential run to speak at CPAC, and he got a warm reception. The conference will close Saturday afternoon with the release of the results of the presidential straw poll of attendees and a speech by Tea Party-backed Congressman Allen West.