It's basic training for GOP freshmen

It was like a flashback to 1981: Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb and "Star Wars," plus lots of Republicans eager to pursue peace through strength. All were brought together at a Baltimore hotel yesterday by the Heritage Foundation, unofficial policy arm of the Reagan White House.

The new twist was that the eyes of this crop of Republicans for the mid-1990s appeared to glaze over at much of Dr. Teller's talk of high-science defense technology. But the soon-to-be members of Congress bolted upright at a crack he took at the Democrats' penchant for government regulation.


Referring to Vice President Al Gore's crusade to curb the pollutants he believes cause global warming, Dr. Teller said: "It turns out that every one of his predictions were wrong. The temperature did not rise as he predicted. His policy of worrying about man's influence is the strongest anti-scientific act I have ever seen in the United States."

"Some regulation . . . probably has to be, but one kind of regulation is to be avoided in an absolute manner: Do not regulate what you do not understand and what the vice president thinks he does understand."


As about 50 of the 73 Republican freshmen began three days of policy lectures at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel to help prepare them for their new life running Congress as part of the GOP majority, this anti-regulation talk was more the kind of stuff they could identify with.

Two-thirds of the freshmen listed their occupations as business or banking, far outnumbering the lawyers who held the dominant occupation in the last Congress. Even some of the lawyers campaigned with the same approach as Rep.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., 37, of Baltimore County, who went shop to shop in strip malls to gather complaints from the business community.

"I said, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help,' " Mr. Ehrlich recalled. "They never had anybody do that before."

This heightened business perspective brings a strong anti-government theme to the class of 1994 that seems to far outweigh interest in resurrecting funds for research on the space-based defense shield, dubbed "Star Wars," that was President Ronald Reagan's dream.

"It was the one contract item that [gave] me trouble," said Rep.-elect John Ensign of Las Vegas, referring to the Republicans' Contract with America, which promised quick action on restoring anti-ballistic missile funding cut by the Democrats.

But Mr. Ensign, 36, a veterinarian who also helps run the family casino business, says he knows plenty about over-regulation. The federal government wanted him to replace a $300 piece of equipment with a $10,000 contraption that didn't work as well, he said. They made him pay for an impact study on endangered species when he wanted to build on land already paved over.

About to assume his first elected office, Mr. Ensign said his top priority would be working to undo some of these regulations and "making sure we think about the financial impact in the future."

Much of the agenda for these three days of seminars sponsored by the Heritage Foundation is aimed at the sort of bread-and-butter issues the Republican freshmen ran on.


Yesterday they attended panels on family tax relief, federal farm policy and freeing the states from costly federal dictates. Today they will hear about reducing the size of government and congressional reforms. Tomorrow the schedule includes sessions on welfare reform and how to deal with what Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner Jr. called the "radical environmental movement."

The weekend will be capped with a Saturday night dinner at Camden Yards featuring Rush Limbaugh, the talk-show host who has become an icon of the conservative cause.

Vin Weber, a former congressman and one of the hosts of the Heritage affair, couldn't resist a triumphant dig at the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, which used to hold the freshman orientation sessions but lost out this year because so many Republicans preferred the conservative gathering to the more liberal orientation at Harvard.

"Just think. You could have been listening to Michael Dukakis," Mr. Weber said, in a swipe at the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee now on the Kennedy school faculty.

The Heritage Foundation, which had strained relations with the Republican Bush White House and faded from prominence altogether when President Clinton was elected two years ago, is celebrating its own return to the thick of the action along with the congressional Republicans.

"Think of Heritage as an extension of your staff," Mr. Feulner told the freshmen.


The new members, who spent much of yesterday buzzing about their new committee assignments, had mixed reactions to the panel discussions, much of which covered topics made familiar by voters.

"It's sort of the same thing we've been hearing for 10 months," Rep.-elect James B. Longley of Maine, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, said of talk of tax relief and lifting government burdens.

But Rep.-elect Randy Tate of Washington said he was intrigued at plans for combining tax cuts promised in the Contract with America with spending cuts so that both will be easier to swallow. "They told us spending cuts are often very unpopular, so the tax cuts will be added as a sweetener to get them through."