Over the past several years, we’ve had the honor of working with millions of free-market activists across the country through our organization, Americans for Prosperity. These activists have taken time away from their families, their work, and their lives to get involved in the public-policy process in an unprecedented way. Washington has ignored their concerns and pushed forward with a big-government agenda of out-of-control spending, regulation, and taxes. Voters decisively rejected that agenda in this election.
We caution Republicans, however, against interpreting this election as an endorsement of their recent performance, which has too often fallen short of their professed principles. This election provides an opportunity for Republicans to prove themselves worthy of the support of grassroots free-market activists. Indeed, this may be the best opportunity they will have for a generation.
The American people are still angry about the reckless fiscal policies of the Bush-Hastert years: pork-barrel earmarks such as the Bridge to Nowhere, vast new entitlement programs such as the Medicare Part D prescription-drug benefit, and the galloping growth of government spending across the board.
The first test for the new Republican House majority will come the week of November 15, when they vote, in conference, on extending their existing earmark moratorium. If they allow earmarking as usual to return, it will tell the American people that their talk of fiscal responsibility was just an empty election promise. Conversely, extending the moratorium will show immediate determination to chart a different course.
If defeated congressional Democrats try to pass a pork-barrel appropriations bill or other major big-government legislation in the lame-duck session, against the wishes of the American people, Republicans must use every procedural tactic at their disposal to stop them. The Democrats had their chance; they’ve been decisively rejected. In the lame-duck session, Congress should simply extend all of the current tax rates and pass a clean, short-term continuing resolution to fund the government until the new Congress is sworn in. Anything else would blatantly disregard the election’s results.
The marching orders for the new Congress and for the Obama administration come January are clear: Washington cannot and should not try to control our lives. Washington cannot and should not tax and regulate away our economic freedom. Washington cannot and should not spend trillions of dollars we don’t have on programs we don’t need.
President Obama should learn the same lesson from Election 2010 that Bill Clinton did from Election 1994: The era of big government is over. Only this time, we need an end that will last.
Congressional Republicans should take seriously the possibility of bipartisan action to address voters’ top concerns and offer to work with the president to cut spending and balance the budget, like the historic balanced-budget deal of the 1990s. They should complete welfare reform by replacing the remaining federal welfare programs with block grants to the states, based on the successful 1990s model. They should move forward on trade liberalization and pro-growth tax reform. And they should seriously pursue de-funding and repealing Obamacare while moving toward real health reform that empowers patients and gives them control of their own health-care dollars.
If the president rejects the opportunity to work in a bipartisan way toward fiscal responsibility and instead continues to pursue a far-left agenda, Congress must step up and stop him.
There are some frightening indications that he intends to do just that; even in the face of obvious public opposition, he has been pursuing an extreme regulatory agenda including EPA global-warming regulation, NLRB union giveaways, and FCC regulation of the Internet. More than ever, Congress must exercise a robust oversight power and assert itself against regulatory overreach.
As we see in the Tea Party, Americans who worked hard, played by the rules, paid their mortgages, paid their taxes, and took care of their own lives are now engaged in the political process on a massive scale. They are not going away. The political landscape has changed, and Washington will now be held accountable for everything it does.
Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “Trust but verify.” When it comes to Congress — and, yes, that includes the new Republican majority — our free-market movement says, “Forget trust, let’s just verify.” Republicans must keep that in mind and use the opportunity created by this election to prove themselves worthy of the support they received.
– Tim Phillips is president of, and Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at, Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots network of 1.6 million free-market activists that has been attacked by President Obama by name at least 18 times.