Fred Thompson on Government Reform

Former Republican Senator (TN)

Focus on the budget, social policy, and bipartisanship

Q: Your key focus areas?

A: We haven’t come to terms yet with the nature of the threat that we’re facing or what we’re going to have to do to defend ourselves. We’re bankrupting the next generation and nobody even wants to talk about it, much less do anything about it. Judges are setting our social policy now in this country and that’s going to stop. I’d bring in members of Congress and say I just got a mandate. We can work and cooperate together or I’ll go over your head to the American people.

Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Republican Debate Dec 12, 2007

Tort reform ok for liability lawsuits; leave rest to states

GIULIANI: Fred was the single biggest obstacle to tort reform in the US Senate. He stood with Democrats over and over again. He voted against $250,000 caps on damages, which they have in Texas. He voted against almost anything that would make our legal system fairer: loser pays rules, things that would prevent lawsuits like that $54 million lawsuit by that guy who lost his pants--you know? That cost that family $100,000 in legal fees. I think the man should have to pay the family for the $100,000. Fred Thompson, along with very few Republicans, blocked tort reform over and over and over again.

THOMPSON: I supported tort reform with regard to securities legislation. I supported tort reform with regard to product liability legislation, things that have to do with interstate commerce. I think it appropriately passed. I supported and worked for those things. Local issues belong at the state level. Most states have passed tort reform. That’s our system. It’s not all federalized.

Source: 2007 GOP primary debate in Orlando, Florida Oct 21, 2007

FactCheck: supported some tort reforms; opposed others

Giuliani accused Thompson of being “the single biggest obstacle to tort reform” in the Senate, while Thompson said, “I supported tort reform” as it applied to securities and product liability lawsuits. Giuliani and Thompson are BOTH mostly right about the latter’s position on various tort measures.
Source: FactCheck.org on 2007 GOP primary debate in Orlando Oct 21, 2007

2001: Published 2-volume report, “Government at the Brink”

As Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, I led an investigation and held hearings on the failure and shortcomings of our government. This resulted in a two volume work that I published in 2001, entitled “Government at the Brink” and still available on the Internet. It outlined these deficiencies and made recommendations to cut waste and save billions. Now these problems have only grown worse since that time.
Source: Candidacy announcement speech Sep 6, 2007

Assisted getting John Roberts through Senate confirmation

One of the most rewarding experiences I had was when President Bush asked me to assist now Chief Justice John Roberts through the Senate confirmation process. It is very important that the next President appoint federal judges who interpret the Constitution, not try to make it fit their own personal or political views. I have seen both kinds of judges, and I know the difference.
Source: Candidacy announcement speech Sep 6, 2007

Political expediency ignored limited federalist government

The federalist construct of strong states and limited federal government put in place by our Founders was intended to give states the freedom to experiment and innovate. It envisions states as laboratories in competition with each other to develop ideas and programs to benefit their people, to see what works and what does not.

This ingenious means of governing a large and diverse nation prevailed for more than a century. But today our Constitution and the limited, federalist government it established, are considered by many to be quaint or out of touch with the world we live in, to be swept aside by political expediency. The Supreme Court and the Congress sometimes ignores the written Constitution to reflect its view of the times.

The result has been decades of growth in the size, scope and function of national government. Today’s governance of mandates, pre-emptions, regulations, and federal programs bears little resemblance to the balanced system the Framers intended.

Source: Campaign website, www.Fred08.com, “Principles” Sep 1, 2007

Strong states work a lot better than central planning

Back in my days in the Senate, I found myself on the short end of a couple of 99 to 1 votes. They involved issues that had been under the purview of states for over 200 years. I asked why we should federalize what rightly were state and local issues.

I’ve been saying it for years, and it bears repeating: what works in Tennessee may not work in Nebraska and may be different from what succeeds in Oregon. That’s why President Ronald Reagan compared federalism to letting a thousand sparks of genius in the states & communities around this country catch fire. It’s not a perfect system, but it works a lot better than the alternative of central planning.

We need to allow local authorities to apply their own good ideas and use their own good judgment. Each state can find its own way, learning from the successes and failures of the others. There is a wealth of creativity and initiative out there in the states, and often the best ideas in Washington started out as state initiatives.

Source: Campaign website, www.Fred08.com, “Principles” Sep 1, 2007

Federalization deprives us of experimentation in states

Every bureaucracy that stays long enough grows. And every new bureaucracy that’s created, one is created beneath it. Good people, coming into Washington to head an agency; we bring them in for a confirmation process that costs them a fortune in lawyer fees, and months before some committee arguing about them. And finally when they get there to serve, they want to do something important for their country, they want to engage in broad policy issues that they came to Washington to address, not to fight their own bureaucracy.

And so it goes on and on, and after awhile we end up with departments that can’t pass an audit. And yet we have a lot of people still want to federalize things that have been under the state purview for years and years. Depriving the nation of the experimentation & diversity that’s out there in the states. I think our attitude ought to be in the federal government to do what you’re supposed to do and do it competently, and then maybe we’ll give you something else to do.

Source: Address at the Lincoln Club 45th Annual Dinner Aug 3, 2007

1973:Revealed White House taping system in Watergate hearing

Q: Explain what you did in Watergate.

A: Howard Baker chose a lawyer for the Republicans. He chose me. I was 30 years of age.

Q: Now, what was that like? You’re 30 years of age, and you’re taking on the president of the United States.

A: Well, sometimes it’s good not to know enough to be scared. And that was the case with me. And we found ourselves in the middle of a maelstrom. I found myself on one hot July afternoon, asking “Is there a taping system in the White House,” and of course the witness answered yes.

Q: And nobody had known this before to this point?

A: No. The staff came up with that. And we revealed it there in a public hearing. And the fight over that led to the president’s resignation shortly before he probably would have been impeached. So quite a lesson for a young man of 30.

Source: Interview on Jay Leno show Jun 13, 2007

More hard money donations ok; but do away with soft money

Q: You were one of 11 Republicans who supported McCain-Feingold. A lot of conservatives are angry at that. Do you still support it? Was it the right decision, in retrospect?

A: Part of it was, and part of it wasn’t. The part that I came to town to change was the increasing amounts of money being given to politicians. The Clintons showed us how to use soft money in ways that people up until recently thought was against the law. And more and more large donations flowed into the parties and to the candidates. I said, “Let’s raise the hard money legitimate limits that we’ve always had from $1,000”--it was my amendment, really, that got it from $1,000 to $2,000, plus indexed for inflation, do away with the soft money. I still think that’s a good idea. I support that. Coming to a politician and giving him a bunch of money and having business before him is not a good idea.

Q: But 60 days before a general, 30 days before a primary?

A: That’s not working.

Q: You would repeal that?

A: Yes.

Source: Fox News “Hannity & Colmes” interview Jun 6, 2007

Passionate supporter of states rights

Fred Thompson is an outspoken and passionate supporter of “states rights”. He was often a lone voice in the Senate cautioning against the creeping effects of Federalism that overburdens taxpayers and state and local governments alike.

Thompson says, “Congress routinely passes laws and resulting regulations which are in conflict with state laws and regulations. These federal laws do not state whether or not they are intended to preempt the state regulations. Clearly, members of Congress don’t want their constituents back home asking why their state authority has been stripped. But Congress can have it both ways. They leave the legislation ambiguous, knowing that the federal courts will more often than not interpret the statute as preempting state law. I introduced a bill that essentially said, “Congress must state whether or not the federal legislation is intended to preempt the state regulation.” Period.

Source: The Fred Factor, by Steve Gill, p.162-163 Jun 3, 2007

Term limits counter professionalization of politics

Sometimes I think that I’m the last guy around who still thinks term limits is a good idea. The professionalization of politics saps people’s courage. Their desire to keep their job and not upset anybody overrides all else -- even if it hurts the country
Source: Speech to Lincoln Club Annual Dinner, Orange County CA May 4, 2007

Reasonable limitations on soft money

Q: You have taken some stands that conservatives may not like. For instance, you voted for John McCain’s campaign finance reform.

A: I came from the outside to Congress. And it always seemed strange to me. We’ve got a situation where people could give politicians huge sums of money, which is the soft money situation at that time, and then come before those same politicians and ask them to pass legislation for them. I mean, you get thrown in jail for stuff like that in the real world. And so I always thought that there was some reasonable limitation that ought to be put on that, and you know, looking back on history, Barry Goldwater in his heyday felt the same thing. So that’s not a non-conservative position, although I agree that a lot of people have interpreted it that way.

Source: Fox News Sunday: 2007 “Choosing the President” interviews Mar 11, 2007

Scooter Libby trial was a miscarriage of justice

Q: You are on the steering committee of the Scooter Libby Defense Fund.

A: That’s right.

Q: And you helped raise millions of dollars for his extraordinary legal expenses. Would Pres. Thompson pardon Libby now or would you wait until all of his legal appeals are exhausted?

A: I’d do it now. This is a trial that never would have been brought in any other part of the world. This is a miscarriage of justice. One man is bearing the brunt of a political maelstrom here that produced something that never should have come about. This Justice Dept. knew in the very beginning that the thing that was creating the controversy, who leaked Valerie Plame’s name, did not constitute a violation of the law. Mr. Armitage leaked the name. It wasn’t Scooter Libby. They spent the next year drilling in a dry well and finally got some inconsistencies or some failure to remember out of Libby and made a prosecution out of it. It’s not fair. I would do anything that I could to alleviate that.

Source: Fox News Sunday: 2007 “Choosing the President” interviews Mar 11, 2007

Ludicrous waste & fraud: you wonder if anyone is even trying

Because of its size and scope, and the terrible way it is managed, the federal government wastes billions and billions of your tax dollars every year. Obviously we will never completely eliminate fraud, waste, and error in an operation as large and complex as the federal government. Some of the ludicrous situations we uncover, however, make you wonder if anyone is even trying.

In this report, I hope to illuminate some of the root causes of the mismanagement that persist in the federal government This report does not attempt to capture all of the serious management challenges that the government faces. Rather, we are focusing on four of the core problems that agencies face--workforce management, financial management, information technology management, and overlap and duplication. The only thing we really need to solve these problems is leadership. If the President and the leadership in Congress make a priority out of solving these problems, they will get solved.

Source: Government at the Brink, by Fred Thompson, Vol.1, p. 1 Jun 3, 2001

Boston’s Big Dig #1 on Top Ten Worst Mismanagement

    The Federal Government’s Top Ten Worst Examples of Mismanagement
  1. THE BIG DIG--Boston’s Central Artery--is the most expensive federal infrastructure project in the nation’s history. Its cost continues to rise and is now estimated at $13.6 billion; an almost 525% increase from the original $2.6 billion.
  2. ABUSING THE TRUST OF AMERICAN INDIANS--We do not know what happened to more than $3 billion held in trust for American Indians.
  4. MEDICARE WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE--almost $12 billion every year on improper payments.
Source: Government at the Brink, by Fred Thompson, Vol.1, p. 2 Jun 3, 2001

Federal civil service system is broken

The civil service system--the process the federal government uses to hire and promote workers--is itself broken. The complex and outmoded federal civil service system takes too long to hire people. It fails to hold employees accountable for their performance. It shields poor performers and does little to encourage and reward conscientious and hard-working employees. Too many good workers don’t get enough responsibility and support, so they become demoralized and leave. Too many poor or marginal workers slide by for 20 or 30-year careers, and even advance, without any real accountability. One expert observed that the civil service system “is slow in the hiring, almost useless in the firing, overly permissive in the promoting, & out of touch with actual performance.”

Apart from its day-to-day problems, the basic federal civil service model--built around a cradle-to-grave career from entry level to retirement with virtually guaranteed job security--is outdated.

Source: Government at the Brink, by Fred Thompson, Vol.1, p. 11-12 Jun 3, 2001

Government invests billions on systems that don’t work

From the experience of the federal government thus far, it is clear that the design and implementation of financial management systems is difficult. Time after time, government agencies have invested millions--sometimes billions--on systems that don’t work. Agencies should evaluate their progress throughout the year to ensure that the processes in place are working, that agency activities are efficient and effective, and that taxpayers’ dollars are not being wasted. Accordingly, agencies should do the following:
Source: Government at the Brink, by Fred Thompson, Vol.1, p. 34 Jun 3, 2001

Voted YES on banning "soft money" contributions and restricting issue ads.

Vote on passage of H.R. 2356; Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (Shays-Meehan bill, House equivalent of McCain-Feingoldf bill). Vote to ban “soft money” contributions to national political parties but permit up to $10,000 in soft money contributions to state and local parties to help with voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. The bill would stop issue ads from targeting specific candidates within 30 days of the primary or 60 days of the general election. Additionally, the bill would raise the individual contribution limit from $1,000 to $2,000 per election for House and Senate candidates, both of which would be indexed for inflation.
Reference: Bill HR.2356 ; vote number 2002-54 on Mar 20, 2002

Voted YES on require photo ID (not just signature) for voter registration.

Motion to Table Schumer Amdt. No. 2937; To permit the use of a signature or personal mark for the purpose of verifying the identity of voters who register by mail, and for other purposes. Voting Yes would kill the amendment. The amendment would allow a signature to identify voters who register by mail, instead of requiring showing photo identification or other proof of residence before being allowed to vote.
Reference: Bill S.565 ; vote number 2002-38 on Feb 27, 2002

Voted YES on banning campaign donations from unions & corporations.

Vote to ban soft money donations to political parties and forbid corporate general funds and union general funds from being spent on issue ads. The bill would increase the individual contribution limit to candidates from $1,000 to $2,000.
Reference: Bill S.27 ; vote number 2001-64 on Apr 2, 2001

Voted YES on funding for National Endowment for the Arts.

This table motion would end debate on an amendment aimed at funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Support for the motion to table is a vote for NEA funding. [YES to table means supporting the NEA; NO means defunding the NEA].
Status: Motion to Table Agreed to Y)80; N)16; NV)4
Reference: Motion to table Smith Amdt #1569; Bill H.R. 2466 ; vote number 1999-260 on Aug 5, 1999

Voted YES on favoring 1997 McCain-Feingold overhaul of campaign finance.

Support of the campaign finance bill proposed by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Feingold (D-WI).
Status: Cloture Motion Rejected Y)53; N)47
Reference: Campaign Finance Reform Bill; Bill S. 25 ; vote number 1997-267 on Oct 7, 1997

Voted YES on Approving the presidential line-item veto.

Approval of the presidential line-item veto authority.
Status: Conf Rpt Agreed to Y)69; N)31
Reference: Conference Report on S. 4; Bill S. 4 ; vote number 1996-56 on Mar 27, 1996

Voted NO on banning more types of Congressional gifts.

To exclude certain items from the Congressional Gift Ban.
Status: Amdt Failed Y)39; N)60; NV)1
Reference: Murkowski Amdt to S. 1061; Bill S. 1061 ; vote number 1995-339 on Jul 28, 1995

Other candidates on Government Reform: Fred Thompson on other issues:
GOP: Sen.John McCain
GOP V.P.: Gov.Sarah Palin
Democrat: Sen.Barack Obama
Dem.V.P.: Sen.Joe Biden

Third Parties:
Constitution: Chuck Baldwin
Libertarian: Rep.Bob Barr
Constitution: Amb.Alan Keyes
Liberation: Gloria La Riva
Green: Rep.Cynthia McKinney
Socialist: Brian Moore
Independent: Ralph Nader
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Page last updated: Feb 08, 2010