HELENA — U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg R-Mont., speaking to the Legislature on Monday, attacked the policies of the Obama administration, defended states' rights and said a federal judge in Montana belongs on the Endangered Species Act for his ruling on wolves.
Rehberg spoke to the Montana House and Senate two days after announcing that he will be a candidate in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
While Rehberg's speech drew repeated applause and occasional standing ovations from Republicans, Democrats later criticized him for the speech.
Rehberg said American voters spoke in November when they rejected “the insufferable arrogance that they saw coming out of Washington, D.C.,” a reference to President Barack Obama and the Democratic U.S. House and Senate. Rehberg and fellow Republicans won back control of the House and narrowed the Democrats' Senate margin.
He said American voters demonstrated that they believe in states' rights and that the states created the federal government, not the other way around.
“My job as your congressman to defend the states' rights principle in Washington,” he said.
That means keeping Washington off people's backs, such as ending federal management of the grey wolf population here in Montana, he said to applause.
He blasted “environmental obstructionist” for finding a federal judge in Missoula, Donald Molly, whom he didn't identify by name, who ruled that the wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species list.
“When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately,” Rehberg said. “I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species list?”
The congressman said he has introduced legislation to permanently end federal jurisdiction over the wolf and return it to wildlife managers in Montana and other states.
Ted Dick, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, rebuked Rehberg for the attack on Molloy.
“Congressman Rehberg's veiled threat against federal judges he disagrees with is in light of the murder of a federal judge in Tucson less than a month ago,” Dick said.
Rehberg praised Democratic Sen. Max Baucus for his comments to the Legislature last month that “Montanans, not Washington bureaucrats, know best how to manage federal wolves.”
But Rehberg then chided Baucus, a key architect of the federal health care law, saying, “But I wonder when he's going to figure out that Montanans, not Washington bureaucrats, know best how to manage our own health care too.”
Rehberg was highly critical of the health-care law, saying it creates a huge paperwork burden on small businesses, raises taxes by $500 billion, cuts Medicare by $500 billion and creates “thousands of pages of red tape.”
Rehberg told how he joined the House majority last month to repeal the law.
In addition, Rehberg blasted the federal stimulus bill and other spending advocated by Obama and passed by Congress in 2009, noting that some of it was spent on wasteful projects.
Rehberg said it only increased the national debt, further burden “our children and grandchildren.”
This concern about the federal deficit is why the House Republican majority voted unanimously to ban all earmarks this session, said Rehberg, calling himself a “reformed earmarker.”
Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, called Rehberg inflammatory.
“I thought it was more like a campaign speech than a speech to the Legislature,” she said.
“At a time when we're all struggling to get the work of the people of Montana done, it was more of the same disconnect we've seen from Republicans in Congress the last couple of years: complain about things, just say no.”