YORK -- U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint brought his burgeoning rebellious streak to York County on Wednesday, telling a law enforcement audience that Baghdad and Washington, D.C., share a common problem.
"Right now, it's very dysfunctional," DeMint said of Iraq's fledging government. "But it's no more dysfunctional than the Congress I work in every day."
The comment came during a luncheon in York, where DeMint thanked local police officers for their service and presented an award to York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant. In a 20-minute speech, DeMint showed the same outspoken flair that has earned him national headlines this summer.
He assailed Democrats for pursuing what he called socialist policies and said he knows of no federal program that has ever worked well.
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Elaborating on his Iraq comments with reporters, DeMint stressed the need for patience.
"We're waiting for their newly elected government to take charge and get things done," DeMint said. "If we look at our own government, we've gotten very little done. ... I don't think it's an unfair comparison."
Democrats: Comparison is 'scary'
The remarks drew a swift response from Democrats.
"That's a scary statement to hear from a member of the United States Senate," said Jim Watkins, chairman of the York County Democratic Party. "The institutions of our republic have withstood civil war, world wars, depressions, and will continue to survive long after Jim DeMint has come back to South Carolina."
The Iraqi parliament went on vacation this month after failing to pass legislation considered critical by the United States, including a law on sharing oil revenue. The 40 seats in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet are nearly half empty after a series of resignations and boycotts. Thirty-one Iraqi judges have been killed in the line of duty.
"We shouldn't look at the Iraqi government and think they should be agreeing on things," DeMint said Wednesday. "Because we don't."
York County GOP Chairman Glenn McCall defended DeMint's portrayal, mentioning efforts to reform immigration as an example of the problem in Congress.
"Well, there's not the fighting," said McCall, who attended the event. "But they (lawmakers) are not working together for what's best for the country. I just thought he meant it from a generalized perspective."
Jack Holeman of Rock Hill -- whose son, Michael, is on his second tour of duty in Iraq and has been awarded two Purple Hearts -- sees similarities as well.
"I tend to agree," he said. "I'm sure things are getting done, it's just stuff we don't hear about. 'Stalemated' is a better term, from my point of view. -Neither one can move the other."
A higher profile
DeMint, a Greenville native, spent six years in the House and most of his first two years in the Senate in relative obscurity. A list of congressional power rankings last October put him at No. 93; Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican from South Carolina, came in at No. 14.
But in recent months, DeMint has raised his profile -- and irked some in his own party -- by becoming a fierce critic of spending and immigration policies. His stances landed him on the cover of National Review, the prestigious conservative magazine.
"There's no evidence that we've ever solved anything at the federal level to a great degree," DeMint said Wednesday. "I've been there over eight years, and I've yet to find one program that works really well."
Watkins singled out the federal highway system, the GI Bill, Social Security and Head Start as examples of federal programs that he believes have succeeded.
After his speech, DeMint blamed Democrats for relying on government to solve the nation's problems.
"Everything they suggest is socialist in nature," he said. "In the Senate, just about everyone on the Democratic side, and some Republicans, propose a government solution to every problem. That's a socialistic tendency."
Graham is visiting Baghdad this week, and his office said he wasn't likely to respond to DeMint's comments even if he were in the country. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt of York was on vacation with his family and also unavailable. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, also could not be reached.
DeMint declined to single out any lawmakers but said next year's presidential election will give voters a choice between two distinct visions: "One is socialism. One is freedom," he said.
Later Tuesday night, about 50 people were expected to attend a DeMint fundraiser at a home on Lake Wylie.