GOP: Opportunity, Conundrum
In his first formal speech, new U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that the nation has lost faith in government and no longer trusts Washington.
McConnell’s observation was spot on. But what will his Senate do to restore America’s faith and trust?
McConnell promised dramatic contrasts with his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., whose obstruction of House bills shielded the president from vetoes of popular measures before his re-election and Democratic colleagues from facing tough votes prior to the 2014 midterms. And it nonetheless destroyed Reid’s majority.
The Hill, a weekly newspaper that covers Congress, reported that McConnell is committed to restoring traditional Senate power which was centralized in the Majority Leader’s office during Reid’s tenure: "We need to return to regular order. We need to get committees working again. We need to recommit to a rational, functional appropriations process."
To encourage bipartisanship and collegiality, McConnell will allow senators of both parties "more opportunity to offer and vote on amendments," a process which will require longer hours and work weeks.
McConnell promised to work to reform "a broken tax system," and on bipartisan infrastructure projects such as the Keystone pipeline. He will also encourage trade legislation to open more markets to American exports.
In the House of Representatives, U.S. Rep John Boehner, R-Ohio, was re-elected to a third term as Speaker, after which he immediately initiated a vindictive "pay-back" campaign against fellow-Republican House "dissidents" who didn’t vote for him, before relenting somewhat in January.
If only Boehner had been as tough on Democrats in 2014 before the House approved the $1.1 trillion "CRomnibus" spending bill which funded the government through 2015 without modifying funding for Obamacare or challenging the administration’s executive action on immigration.
Following Boehner’s initial outburst, the House resumed work.
With the Senate in Republican control, House business will follow a different track this year.
McConnell noted that, with Democratic support, in four years the House passed jobs and other popular bills that never received votes in the Senate. If reintroduced and passed, those will have Senate priority.
In a recent column, I observed: "Democratic politicians are beginning to distance themselves from a president who…misleads Americans, who has overseen numerous bureaucratic scandals, and who pursued policies that not only failed, but some of which, like Obamacare, were imposed on America knowing they would never work as advertised."
And I predicted that "in order to advance or…simply preserve their careers and resurrect the party after (or before) Obama leaves office, ambitious Democrats will have no options other than denying, ignoring or rebuking the…policies they enabled or defended during Obama’s two terms."
Here’s how that observation and the following prediction will most likely play out:
During last year’s mid-term campaign, President Barack Obama brashly boasted that, while his name wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Voters agreed and awarded Republicans a mandate to apply the brakes.
The House will pass satchels-full of legislation, many with Democratic support.
You can expect bills approving the Keystone Pipeline and other energy-related projects, many more on jobs, on modifications to or replacements for Obamacare, on spending restraint, defense, border security and immigration, among others. Some will receive bipartisan Senate approval.
Following Reid’s eight years of Senate obstruction, bipartisan successes will be among the first of their type to appear on Obama’s desk during his presidency.
Given his well-known hubristic intransigence, Obama will choose confrontation over cooperation and veto most, perhaps all of them, further damaging his party’s brand.
Eventually, inevitably, Americans will blame Democrats for Washington gridlock, worried congressional Democrats will react negatively to Obama’s obstructionism, and more Senate Democrats will join Republicans to reach cloture.
Depending on the issue, up to fifteen Senate Democratic votes may be "gettable." Veto overrides are possible.
Despite facing vetoes, if a Republican-controlled Congress passes bipartisan legislation and addresses difficult, but important issues like tax reform and entitlements — with or without Democratic support — Republicans have an opportunity to demonstrate a governing style and vision which can elect a conservative president in 2016.
So here’s the thing: It’s a fact that conservative voters won and increased the GOP’s congressional majorities.
But here’s the conundrum: Are establishment, big government Republicans (In other words, those who credit midterm electoral gains to their imagined political brilliance rather than to the Democratic overreach and malfeasance which left voters nowhere else to turn) too self-satisfied and tone deaf to back an authentic conservative for president?
That’s the partisan debate that will be worth watching.