Influential ‘Club for Growth’ attacks Berg’s fiscal conservatism

Rick Berg

FARGO – Republican Rep. Rick Berg isn’t fiscally conservative enough according to some in his own party – namely one influential voice that preemptively launched an attack against the North Dakota freshman congressman on Thursday.

The Club for Growth says Berg “lacks leadership” and condemned him for not voting in favor of five measures that would cut funding for some programs and, thereby, reduce federal spending.

The club’s statement Thursday came in response to developments this week in North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race for 2012 – for which Berg is weighing a potential campaign.

Although Berg acknowledged he’s considering the race, he hasn’t given any indication that a candidacy is forthcoming. Nonetheless, the Club for Growth is on the offensive.

“The country needs the next senator from North Dakota to have a pro-growth agenda in the U.S. Senate,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. “Congressman Rick Berg lacks leadership in addressing our nation’s spending problem at a time when people want government to spend less, not more. The Republican Party can and should demand better.”

The group said Berg is “not the conservative leader Republicans need in the U.S. Senate.”

This isn’t the first time Berg’s conservatism has been questioned during his nearly 30-year political career. The club’s criticism Thursday echoed a wrinkle in Berg’s legislative history, when state Republicans sought to elect a floor leader for the 2007 session of the North Dakota Legislature.

Instead of backing the incumbent Majority Leader Berg, some Republicans voiced support for a more conservative contender – fellow Fargo Rep. Al Carlson – who they felt better reflected their views. Nonetheless, Berg came out victorious in the contest and was re-elected to a second term in the House leadership post.

(After serving as floor leader since 2003, Berg announced three years ago he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2010 to either the House leadership post or his district seat. His departure cleared the path for Carlson to become House Republicans’ new – and current – leader. Carlson said this week he’d consider running for the U.S. House, if Berg sought the Senate seat.)

When Berg sought and won his congressional office in 2010, addressing the recovering economy, the national debt and job creation were among Berg’s key campaign platforms – and they’re also similar priority issues for the Club for Growth.

Putting an economic emphasis on the U.S. House campaign seemed a natural reflection of Berg’s background experience. He is a businessman by trade, having served for more than two decades as an executive with regional real estate giant, Goldmark.

Since taking office in January, Berg has voted in favor of some spending cuts – specifically in relation to continuing resolutions to the federal budget. In recent weeks, Berg was among a Republican bloc in the House who stood firm in their demand to see the government tighten its belt now rather than later.

Since Berg hasn’t declared a candidacy in the upcoming Senate race, his office had no comment on that aspect of the Club for Growth’s attack.

However, in regard to votes Berg has made on spending measures in the House, his spokeswoman Alee Lockman said: “Rick’s focus has always been and continues to be best-representing the people of North Dakota and working to change the broken culture of unsustainable Washington spending and leaving our country better off for the next generation.”

Berg said during his town hall event Wednesday in Fargo that he’d cast more than 250 votes since taking office.

Specifically, the Club for Growth takes issue with Berg’s five votes against:

  • cutting $100 million for community service block grants
  • cutting $446.9 million from AMTRAK
  • cutting $134 million in wasteful EPA programs
  • reducing spending to FY06 levels
  • the conservative Republican Study Committee’s substitute budget

Club for Growth describes itself as “a national network of thousands of pro-growth Americans … who believe that prosperity and opportunity come through economic freedom.” The Center for Responsive Politics lists the club as among its PAC list of “heavy hitters.” The club contributed more than $8.2 million to federal races in 2010.

Hotline reported Thursday that the club said it “has heard rumblings about a pro-growth alternative to Berg, but did not specify who that person is.”