Charlie Bass wants his constituents to know that he got their message loud and clear, “I can’t tell you how many people tap me on the shoulder at the supermarket, or at the airport, or even on the sidewalk outside my office and say ‘Don’t forget, we elected you to cut the spending,’” he says. New Hampshire’s Second District Congressman goes on to say that a lack of focus on tackling government spending, including passing a pared-down budget, would present the biggest threat to Republican success heading into the 2012 election.

Although technically a member of the 112th Congress’ freshman class, Bass is a familiar figure in Granite State politics, having occupied the same House seat for six terms beginning in 1994. He lost his 2006 reelection bid to Democrat Paul Hodes, who vacated the seat last year to make an unsuccessful U.S. Senate run. What does Bass credit for NH voters giving him a second chance? “The American people looked at what had happened in America for four years,” he says, adding wryly, “They hadn’t liked what the Republicans did when they were in charge but when they found out what the Democrats had in mind they were even more unhappy.”

As a former and current Congressman, Bass has a unique outlook on his job. “It’s more the perspective one gains from being out of Congress than from being in Congress,” he says, “It gave me a chance to watch the behavior of Congress from a dispassionate, objective viewpoint…what I saw really appalled me.”

When our conversation turns to policy, Bass mentions some unfinished business from his last terms that he looks forward to addressing in this session. He is a returning member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, and spent his four-year hiatus advising alternative energy companies. Discussing cap-and-trade, Bass points out that he, along with fellow NH moderate Republican Judd Gregg, introduced legislation in 1995 to regulate carbon emissions, but calls the recent bill an example of “gross overstepping” on the part of the sponsors. He is also critical of the Obama administration’s energy policy, stating, “The EPA decided to go ahead and start regulating carbon dioxide without any legislative mandate at all, and I think that’s wrong.”

Long known for his political moderation, Bass thinks that the influence of the Tea Party movement has been overstated. “I would suggest that a minority of the freshman class is actually associated, self-associated with the Tea Party movement,” he says. Democratic leadership gets harsher treatment from Bass; he alleges that the American people voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he campaigned as a “middle-of-the-road” Democrat, but his policy initiatives like cap-and-trade, the stimulus, and health care reform have been “huge shocks” to the voters.

Turning to the 2012 election, Bass predicts that the election will center around three key issues. First, he believes it will be a referendum on the new health care reform law, “If Americans re-elect President Obama for a second term, they are going to get the health care law,” he says. The second issue he highlights is President Obama’s willingness – or lack thereof – to work with Republicans to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

Bass’s pick for a third key election issue is Obama foreign policy; an issue he says could cross party lines. “I can’t see a distinction between the foreign policy platform of Barack Obama vis-à-vis terrorism and that of President George W. Bush,” says Bass. On Obama’s handling of the current situation in Libya, Bass accuses the President of engaging the U.S. military in a conflict “without any idea why we’re doing it, who we’re supporting, and how we’re going to get out. One could say that the Bush administration lacked some of that direction, but not anywhere near what we have here.”

Bass plays coy when it comes to picking favorites among the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls who are beginning to flock to the First in the Nation Primary state. Noting New Hampshire voters’ longstanding tradition of wanting – and expecting – face time with each candidate, he says that he looks forward to welcoming all the contenders, some of whom he hasn’t met; “Like the rest of the voters in this state, I’m weighing my options.”