If the GOP takes control of Congress after the mid-term elections the nation’s focus will shift to what comes next. A few observations about what voters can realistically expect:
First, replacing Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader will be a monumental achievement.
As I’ve argued here and here, in a very real sense, every congressional campaign in 2014 – House or Senate – hinges on whether Reid remains majority leader. Keeping him in place will nullify each race, while replacing him and allowing the Senate to cast votes will be a game changer.
“Reid is so obsessed with the obstruction theme because he himself is the obstruction.”
Reid is so obsessed with the obstructionism theme because he himself is the obstruction. Reid has single-handedly taken control of the Senate agenda like no other majority leader in modern history. He has blocked senators from offering amendments twice as often as all other majority leaders combined.
Reid has abused the majority leader’s power of first recognition by “filling the amendment tree,” which prevents everyone else from offering amendments. This is like being the first person in a restaurant that seats 100 people and reserving every table for you.
Reid is also essentially filibustering the House of Representatives by not considering the vast majority of House-passed bills. A GOP takeover of the Senate will end his authoritarian reign and open the floodgates of reform.
Second, ObamaCare won’t be completely repealed, but the process of replacing it can be set in motion.
How to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare has deeply divided Republicans but there are hopeful signs a GOP Congress will see greater unity on this front.
A year after the government shutdown, even the most fervent supporters of the deeply flawed shutdown strategy are now embracing the logic of the shutdown strategy’s critics. As Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), recently argued, “Clearly, the top priority must be a vote to repeal ObamaCare completely … Obama will veto the legislation, but using his first veto on the unpopular law will force him and the Democrats to defend its mandates, regulations, higher costs and unfair tax penalties all over again.” (Emphasis added)
This is important because the group Cuccinelli leads ran attack ads against Republicans, including an author of a leading ObamaCare replacement plan, for not backing the shutdown strategy. Cuccinelli’s new argument, however, is precisely what critics of the shutdown strategy were arguing publicly and privately: “Sure, a vote for repeal can highlight ObamaCare’s flaws and galvanize support for reform but let’s not mislead voters into believing that the president will agree to completely repeal his signature achievement.”
The fact that Cuccinelli and the SCF are embracing this view is good news for conservatives. It increases the odds a GOP Congress will be able to focus on targeted goals like an individual mandate delay, employer mandate repeal, a repeal of the medical device tax, and a repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Avoiding a fight over flawed tactics will also make it much easier to unify Republicans around a serious ObamaCare alternative.
“Whether it’s earmarks or ObamaCare the lesson is the same: The actual work of limiting government is often a thankless, unglamorous and excruciatingly slow process.”
Finally, incremental progress on all fronts is probably the most the GOP can accomplish, but that’s how change happens.
No one runs for office promising to change Washington gradually but that’s almost always how change happens. For instance, when my former boss Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was elected to the Senate in 2004 he didn’t promise to “end earmarks” immediately and castigate anyone who disagreed. Instead, he targeted individual projects like the Bridge to Nowhere and galvanized support slowly. Seven years after we described earmarks as the “gateway drug to Washington’s spending addiction” earmarks finally ended (Coburn released his latest edition of Wastebook, which details government spending on frivolous projects, today).
Whether it’s earmarks or ObamaCare the lesson is the same: The actual work of limiting government is often a thankless, unglamorous and excruciatingly slow process. Fortunately, leaders like Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) understand this. They and others are outlining an agenda on health care, taxes, energy, spending, corporate welfare and more that will essentially force the president to be reasonable or obstruct reform.
Whether the president chooses to cooperate or stand in the way of progress will be up to him. Many in the GOP want to meet him more than half way by, for instance, helping him advance his My Brother’s Keeper initiative with limited government policies that will promote liberty and create opportunity.
As important as elections are they merely create the conditions for change. Real change happens between elections. Fortunately, congressional Republicans have the policies and tactics to make that happen.
John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives.