Politics & Policy

GOP, Show That You Can Govern

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in 2011. (Alex Wong/Getty)
Seize the day and control the agenda

Memo to the GOP. You had a great night on Tuesday. But remember: You didn’t win it; the Democrats lost it.

This is not to say that you didn’t show discipline in making the election a referendum on six years of Barack Obama. You exercised adult supervision over the choice of candidates. You didn’t allow yourselves to go down the byways of gender and other identity politics.

It showed: A gain of probably nine Senate seats, the largest Republican House majority in more than 80 years, and astonishing gubernatorial victories, including Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois, the bluest of the blue, giving the lie to the Democrats’ excuse that they lost because the game was played on Republican turf.

The defeat — “a massacre,” The Economist called it — marks the final collapse of Obamaism, a species of left-liberalism so intrusive, so incompetently executed, and ultimately so unpopular that it will be seen as a parenthesis in American political history. Notwithstanding Obama’s awkward denials at his next-day news conference, he himself defined the election when he insisted just last month that “these [i.e. his] policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.”

They were, and America spoke. But it was a negative judgment, not an endorsement of the GOP. The prize for winning is nothing but the opportunity for Republicans to show that they can govern — the opportunity to seize the national agenda.

Five weeks ago, I suggested a series of initiatives that would be like the 1994 “Contract with America,” but this time post facto. It’s not rocket science. Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, and House speaker John Boehner are already at work producing such an agenda.

It needs to be urgent, determined, and relentless — say, a bill a week for the first ten weeks. Start with obvious measures that have significant Democratic support, like the Keystone XL pipeline. Another such measure is fast-track trade-negotiation authority, which Harry Reid killed and Obama, like all presidents, wants. Republicans should propose and pass it, thereby giving Obama a victory and demonstrating both bipartisanship and magnanimity (as well as economic good sense).

Then a simple, targeted bill to repatriate the $2 trillion of assets being held by U.S. corporations overseas, a bill to authorize and expedite the export of liquid natural gas and crude oil (the latter banned by an obsolete 1975 law), and a strong border-security bill.

As for Obamacare, a symbolic abolition that Obama will immediately veto is less important than multiple rapid-fire measures to kill it with a thousand cuts: Repeal of the medical-device tax, repeal of the individual mandate, repeal of the employer mandate, repeal of the coverage mandate (thereby reinstating Obama’s broken promise that “if you like your health-care plan, you can keep it”), and repeal of the federal bailout for insurers on the Obamacare exchanges.

If Obama issues vetoes, fine. Let the Democrats defend them for the next two years.

Then go big and go positive: A sweeping reform of the tax system, both corporate and individual, abolishing loopholes and lowering rates, like the historic 1986 Reagan-O’Neill reform or Obama’s own abandoned Simpson-Bowles commission. And go large: Invite the other side into immediate negotiations with the aim of producing a tax bill by spring.

How will Obama react? My guess: With the petulance and denial he displayed in his post-election news conference. Moreover, he will try to regain control of the national agenda with executive amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Final memo to the GOP: That would be naked impeachment bait. Don’t take it. Use the power of the purse to defund it. Pledge immediate repeal if Republicans take the White House in 2017. Denounce it as both unconstitutional and bad policy. But don’t let it overwhelm and overtake the GOP agenda. That’s exactly what Obama wants. It is his only way to regain the initiative.

The 2014 election has given the GOP the rare opportunity to retroactively redeem its brand. The conventional perception, incessantly repeated by Democrats and the media, is that Washington dysfunction is the work of the Party of No. Expose the real agent of do-nothing. Show that with Harry Reid no longer able to consign House-passed legislation to oblivion, Congress can actually work.

Pass legislation. When Obama signs, you’ve shown seriousness and the ability to govern. When he vetoes, you’ve clarified the differences between party philosophies and prepared the ground for 2016.

Tuesday’s victory was big. But it did nothing more than level the playing field and give you a shot. Take it.

 Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post Writers Group   

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