When Gridlock is Good

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

At both the state and national levels voters have opted to put into place divided government with Democrats in charge of the executive branch and Republicans holding large majorities in the legislative branch. The differences between the two are stark and deeply ideological. This leaves very little room for compromise and suggests a two-year period of gridlock lies ahead.

If so, it will reflect the will of the electorate. The recent election was not about finding common ground, it was about changing course. In the last six years voters nationally have twice elected Barack Obama to the presidency, while delivering one or both houses of the congress to Republicans. Government, like the electorate, is deeply divided. That is not a negative; it means our system of representative government is actually working and is reflective of the nation at-large.

Given the Leftward bias of the mainstream news media we can expect coverage over the next two years to be heavily slanted in favor of President Obama and incoming Governor Tom Wolf. This despite the fact neither can claim a mandate. Barack Obama’s party has lost over 70 congressional seats during his terms of office. He himself said his policies were on the ballot. They were and voters soundly rejected them. Governor-elect Wolf won the "anybody-but-Tom Corbett" election even while voters sent enhanced Republican majorities to each chamber of the General Assembly.

Executives get to set the agenda so both President Obama and Governor Wolf will push their respective policies – while congress and the state legislature reject them and offer their own paths forward. This will inevitably give rise to a spate of headlines and editorials lamenting the "obstructionist" Republicans standing in the way of the Left’s version of progress.

But stand in the way is exactly what Republicans should do. At the national level it would be a mistake to interpret the election results as voter desire for compromise. The campaigns, especially for U.S. Senate seats, were clear, as was the voters’ rejection of the Obama agenda. At the state level, polling revealed years ago the voters’ desire to replace Tom Corbett. It didn’t matter who, or what issues the Democratic nominee ran on, voters were not going to re-elect the incumbent.

To effectively counter Democrats and their allies in the news media, Republicans are going to have to up their game. GOP congressional leadership in recent years has been mediocre at best, inept and ineffective at its worse. With majorities in both chambers the time has come for Republicans to put forth a proactive agenda to solving the nation’s problems, pass it, and put it on the president’s desk. If the president opts to use his veto, so be it. Republicans could then enter the 2016 election cycle having done their job and with a clear message to put before voters.

Meanwhile, back in Penn’s Woods, the gridlock which gripped state government during four years of total Republican control can only be expected to get worse. To capture his party’s nomination Tom Wolf had to move far to the Left to eclipse such ultra-liberals as Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord. This leaves him little room within which to maneuver. Republicans increased their majorities in both the House and Senate; then elected new leadership in both chambers far more conservative than the ones they replaced. Those legislators cannot give into the Wolf policy agenda without betraying the voters who elected them.

So what should Republicans do? As saying goes: "Dance with the one who brought you." Stay true to the party’s principles. Resist the urge to compromise just to silence media critics. And, put forth workable pro-growth policy solutions to the problems that confront our state and nation. The president and the governor may or may not go along, but passing the wrong policies just for the sake of passing something will long term do nothing to restore our state and nation.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)

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