Most of the political world’s attention this week was focused on Speaker John Boehner’s decision to let President Obama continue borrowing without limit until next March. Speaker Boehner’s decision to break with his conference — and break with his own dollar-for-dollar rule in raising the debt limit — shows that the House GOP conference is without leadership today. While this should strike fear in all who hope to see a conservative governing majority by 2017, Heritage Action’s Conservative Policy Summit showed that there is a path out of the wilderness, if only Washington’s political class can find the courage to walk on it.
Unfortunately, courage is in short supply in Washington. Republican leaders have no compelling vision for the future, which means their only strategy is to recede to the shadows and hope that Obama’s unpopularity produces a Republican Senate. Majorities are important. But majorities with ideas are essential if we are ever to dismantle the mess this administration has made. We owe it to the American people to show them how we would govern as conservatives. The best way to do that is to legislate in the House.
This week, up-and-coming conservatives in the House demonstrated that they are determined to do just that. At the Conservative Policy Summit, ten members of Congress presented big, bold ideas to lead the GOP back to relevance. It is precisely this kind of agenda that can produce a mandate by capturing the hearts and minds of the American people. Far away from the messaging consultants, pollsters, and other preservers of the status quo, these members unapologetically presented an agenda that would unite America behind a vision of a better life.
House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) is pushing the PATH Act. It would get rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — two institutions that played starring roles in the financial collapse — and instead encourage private investment and innovation. The biggest hurdle to moving forward with the PATH Act at this very moment isn’t Harry Reid, and it’s not Nancy Pelosi. It’s the House Republican leadership’s refusal to schedule the bill for a floor vote.
Representative Tom Price (Ga.) spoke about his bill to replace Obamacare with a better alternative. As former chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and the Republican Study Committee, Price is a major player in the Republican conference. His ideas on health care aren’t the only ones out there: Representative Phil Roe (Tenn.) spoke; Representative Paul Broun (Ga.) has a bill; The Heritage Foundation came up with a path forward last fall; and just this week The 2017 Project put out their suggestions. With all these ideas, what’s the hesitancy on inspiring Americans with our vision of how to make health care more affordable and personal and have it follow you all through life?
Conservatives have bold ideas on a whole host of other issues. Recognizing that we live in a time where there is more student-loan debt in our nation than credit-card debt, Senator Mike Lee (Utah) has a bold higher-education-reform package to disrupt the accreditation cartels that limit choice in education. Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) laid out major markers on an energy agenda that he said would create millions of jobs through economic growth. Senator Tim Scott (S.C.) spoke movingly about the importance of school choice and his CHOICE Act to empower parents. Representative Jim Jordan (Ohio), another former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, presented ideas to build on the great bipartisan success of welfare reform.
Conservatives have a great story to tell America. It’s the greatest story in the world: the story of human freedom supported by those who care about us most — our parents, family, and community. Leading up to the 2012 election, some believed that telling that story was too risky. “Keep your heads down,” “Don’t become part of the story,” they warned. But that strategy failed, because it wasn’t enough just to convince Americans that President Obama was failing; we needed to inspire them with a better vision for the future.
Repeating the mistakes of the 2012 cycle is not a winning strategy. The establishment in Washington, D.C., that loves the status quo had its chance that year, and it didn’t work. Now is the time to be bold and show Americans a Republican party that is worthy of the dreams Americans have for our nation’s future.
— Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America.