When it comes to public expectations and legislative accomplishments, the last eight years have been disappointing. President Obama dispensed with whatever knowledge he may have possessed as a professor of constitutional law and governed in effect as a monarch with “a pen and a phone.” His legislative program, with Obamacare as the centerpiece, has been generally unpopular.
Come January 3, the 115th Congress will begin. And while President-elect Trump won’t enter the White House until January 20, members of Congress should waste no time in getting to work. Congress has the chance to usher in an opportunity revolution in America.
Here are three ways it can do so.
1. The House and Senate Leadership Must Empower Committee Chairs
For too long, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have dominated the policymaking process. Absorbed by their own confidence and dedicated to their own power, too many have forgotten their obligation to the people.
Fortunately however, current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has offered a better example. Since taking the speaker’s gavel, Ryan has pushed power downwards. Specifically, he’s gotten out of the way and allowed House committees to work on good ideas. Ryan’s approach is producing good results. Take the recently enacted 21st Century Cures law. Formulated by Republican and Democratic committee leaders, the bipartisan law will fuel cutting edge research and enable Americans to access cutting edge treatments more quickly.
But the Cures Act proves that where committees are empowered to find consensus, they will do so. What we’ve seen here is the antidote to partisan anger. Come January, Ryan should ensure that Committee Chairs retain the initiative. If he does, we’ll see new progress on the horizon.
2. Pursue Immigration Reform
I recognize that this idea might shock you. After all, most people seem to think that Trump’s election means immigration reform is dead and buried until 2020. I believe the opposite is true.
Consider the immigration state of play come January. Trump says he supports legal immigration alongside border security. Republicans say the same. And while Democrats prioritize citizenship for illegal-immigrants before border security, they no longer hold the cards. President Trump, Speaker Ryan, and Republican Senate Majority Leader McConnell should take advantage of this moment to get immigration reform passed.
First, they should propose major improvements to border security. The priority here should be a part-physical, part-digital security wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. Concerned about the prospective trade threats Trump has issued, if pressed politely, Mexico would likely bolster its own preventive security measures along the border. This would placate Trump’s demands for a wall. Next, Republicans should cut funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to support lawfully authorized federal deportations of criminals and other undesirables.
But once the border is effectively secured, congressional Republicans should be bold. They should push Trump to provide a pathway to lawful residency for some of the roughly 11 million illegal-immigrants in the United States. There should, of course, be prerequisites for this approach: a record of academic accomplishment, a record of non-reliance on welfare and government support, and the payment of back taxes.
Yet American small businesses, government agencies and immigrants deserve confidence about their future. Presented correctly, that confidence will consolidate the economy against current doubts over immigration law. America’s population is aging and we need workers to fill jobs that are empty. If we neglect that responsibility, my generation is doomed to a future of high taxes and pathetic services.
But this is the crunch: Trump is likely to agree to such a proposal. Although he doesn’t openly admit it, Trump knows that detaining 10 million illegal-immigrants would split families and communities, stain the moral conscience of a nation that de-facto welcomed illegal-immigrants, pummel the Federal budget, and harm the U.S. economy. Given an alternative that puts security and immigration control first, Trump will get on board.
3. Cut Federal Grants to States that Obstruct Private Opportunity
Just as welfare should always go hand-in-hand with work, Federal grants should always support greater opportunity. And if congressional Republicans are serious about building an opportunity-centric economy, they need to get tough on its opponents—namely, big government Democrats.
One way to do so is by barring federal grants from state governors who obstruct the sharing economy. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York offers a good example. In recent weeks, Cuomo has sought to restrict the rights of New Yorkers to rent out their homes for a little extra cash. He is doing so under pressure from the hotel-lobby (which is losing customers to Airbnb hosts). Another example is Uber and Lyft. Empowering Americans to make a bit of extra cash, and allowing riders to keep more money in their pockets, ride sharing firms like Uber and Lyft are a boon to our economy. Unfortunately, they’re opposed by Democrats who are beholden to special interests such as regulators and taxi unions. If Republicans show they are a voice for those in the sharing economy they’ll become the voice of Americans who are just trying to get by.
Still, this is not to say that federal grants should be dependent on pure-conservative governance. To embrace that approach would be impractical and would politicize federal grants over the long term. If California liberals want to pass minimum wage laws, for example, that’s their prerogative. Congress should only restrict grants where governors introduce laws that hurt American opportunity. Recognizing their balance of national power, congressional leaders should be bold in agenda, unconventional in approach, and dedicated to new American opportunities.
Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.