Dick Armey’s Biggest Failures Over His Decade With FreedomWorks

Former House Republican Leader Dick Armey

Former House Republican Leader Dick Armey

Former House Republican Leader Richard “Dick” Armey (R-TX) confirmed Monday that he has left his position as chairman of FreedomWorks in what appears to be an acrimonious break from the right-wing group he has lead for nearly a decade. Mother Jones reports he told the Tea Party-linked astroturfing group, in a letter, “I expect that Freedom Works shall remove my name, image, and signature from all its letters, print media, postings, web sites, videos, testimonials, endorsements, fund raising materials, and social media, including but not limited to Facebook and Twitter.” An AP report Tuesday noted that Armey will receive $8 million in severance pay, over 20 years, from a wealthy board member.

Armey, who left Congress in 2003 and became a corporate lobbyist. He also joined the Koch-backed Citizens for a Sound Economy. In 2004, the group split into two: Armey’s FreedomWorks and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Armey served as chairman of FreedomWorks from 2004 to November 30, 2012, receiving a $500,000 annual salary from the group and its affiliates.

While Armey and FreedomWorks have received a great deal of credit of incubating the Tea Party movement, Armey’s tenure was largely defined by a series of failures:

1. Despite spending millions on independent expenditures, the group failed to elect almost any of its favored candidates in 2012. FreedomWorks and its related entities spent at least $19 million on the 2012 elections. They spent at least $500,000 per race to defeat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Rep.-Elect Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen.-Elect Tim Kaine (D-VA), and President Obama. All won. They spent more than $2.5 million in Indiana’s Senate race to replace conservative Republican Sen. Dick Lugar with an even more conservative Republican; while their favored candidate won the primary, he was defeated by Democrat Joe Donnelly by more than 5 points in the general. And a nearly $1 million effort to defeat not-conservative-enough Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah also proved a huge disappointment: Hatch won his primary with two-thirds of the vote. Among the group’s beefs with Hatch: he voted for many of the same-debt limit increases that Armey backed during his House tenure.

2. Armey unsuccessful pushed for an end to federal funding for higher education. FreedomWorks believes the “size and scope of government must be returned to a level that the nation can afford.” In 2010, Armey told CNN that that size and scope should not include any support for higher education. Asked if he would prefer wanted federal funding at all, he said, “No. I don’t think the federal government’s involvement in education has benefited the students of America.” The statement ignored the billions of dollars in federally subsidized loans and grants that enable tens of millions of Americans students to be able to afford to go to college — and the proposal was not embraced by Republicans or Democrats.

3. FreedomWorks unsuccessfully proposed eliminating Medicare and Social Security as we know them. On the FreedomWorks website, the group says the “only true path to reform” on Social Security, Medicare, and entitlements, “is to greatly increase recipients’ ownership and control.”
In a 2010 interview, Armey — who has called Social Security a “corrupt Ponzi scheme” — explained that this means we should make these programs “voluntary.” Such a move would undoubtedly destroy the nation’s vital social safety net. The vast majority of Americans support these programs and have rejected proposals to make less radical changes. Armey even failed in his own bizarre attempt to have federal courts to rule him ineligible for Medicare.

4. FreedomWorks unsuccessfully sought to block the Recovery Act. As part of its opposition to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the group joined with other conservative organizations to launch ReadTheStimulus.org. The site encouraged people to read the bill, saying “$850 Billion, 1588 pages, and counting… somebody needs to read it!” Armey later conceded that he never read the bill himself. But this wasn’t entirely a failure for Armey — while the bill became law and saved or created hundreds of thousands of jobs, he was able to make money as a lobbyist helping corporate clients seeking stimulus funds.

5. FreedomWorks unsuccessfully tried to protect the right of insurance companies to discriminate against patients based on preexisting conditions. FreedomWorks strongly opposed Obamacare and continues to call the law’s individual mandate unconstitutional even after the Supreme Court rejected that claim. But more surprising was Armey’s argument against the provisions in the bill banning discrimination by insurers against people with pre-existing medical conditions. In a 2009 interview, he said that if people have “diabetes because they eat like a pig,” the government should not force companies to insure them. The wildly popular pre-existing conditions ban is one of the few pieces of Obamacare that even House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (VA) wants to keep.

Explaining his departure, Armey told the AP his “differences with FreedomWorks are a matter of principle.”