The Smart Legislative Strategy for Obama’s Second Term
December 5, 2012
Instead of being focused on a phony fiscal cliff, Republicans might focus on how they will approach Obama’s second term.
What should House Republicans do? They are in a very different world than they expected just one month ago. Instead of cooperating with a new President-elect Romney, they find themselves baited, taunted, and attacked by a newly re-elected and re-energized President Obama.
What is the right strategy for this new situation?
The news media are, of course, in full collusion with the president in defining the current situation in pro-liberal, anti-Republican terms.
The House Republican situation is made even more complex by the strengthened position of Democrats in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has to feel emboldened by the strategic success of gaining seats in a year which began with every expectation of substantial Republican Senate gains.
The news media and Washington elite solution is simple: surrender, cave in, give up your principles, do what the President demands. Those are the daily suggestions and expectations of the elite media and much if the national establishment, which takes its talking points from the consensus media of the left.
It would be a triple disaster for House Republicans to follow this defeatist advice.
First, it would be a betrayal of the very principles for which they campaigned and the voters who elected them.
Second, it would deeply and bitterly split the House Republican Conference between hard core conservatives and “Obama cooperators.”
Third, it would embolden President Obama and the left to increase their demands and push for even more concessions.
House Republicans are guaranteed majority status through 2014. The odds are overwhelming that they will increase rather than decrease their numbers in the 2014.
House Republicans do not have to worry about day-to-day headlines or day-to-day polls.
They have the opportunity to think and to develop a new strategy in response to their new circumstance.
It was this understanding of time and strategic patterns which enabled the first House Republican majority in 40 years to become, in 1996, the first re-elected House Republican majority in 68 years.
The Washington establishment mythology of the Clinton years almost completely falsifies what actually happened.
House Republicans closed the government twice in late 1995 in their determination to convince President Clinton and the national establishment that we were going to balance the federal budget for the first time in a generation.
The Washington media still believe this was a major mistake.
Yet closing the government convinced the Republican base and the conservative movement that we were serious and had the courage to stand and fight for our convictions.
One year later House Republicans were re-elected despite a resounding defeat for Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole. Almost no one in the national establishment has ever looked at the GOP’s House victory and why it occurred.
Welfare reform and the only four balanced budgets in the modern era were a direct result of that strategy. Furthermore, those balanced budgets were produced by economic growth brought about by tax cuts, not by a socialist austerity program based on tax increases.
House Republicans should take the next six weeks to meet in private and work through a grand strategy for the next four years.
They have to develop a strategic program that can stop and then reverse the efforts of President Obama and the left to fundamentally change America.
This is precisely the type of moment the Founding Fathers designed the constitutional balance for.
The Founding Fathers understood that the executive branch could potentially become dictatorial and too powerful. That is why they built in checks and balances.
The House has five great tools for offsetting a President. These tools are helped by a cooperative Senate but they are not eliminated by an uncooperative Senate.
The five tools are:
The House Republicans today are over-relying on negotiations, the fifth and least useful of the five tools. Our effective negotiations with President Clinton only came after the two government shutdowns. We had to earn his respect through direct, hard confrontation before we could get his attention for practical negotiations.
The negotiation tool is the weakest because it centralizes communications and decision making into a formula which maximizes the President’s dominance within the national news media.
The most powerful House tool is appropriations. This power goes all the way back to Runnymede and the signing of the Magna Carta. If the people’s representatives don’t appropriate the money, the President can’t spend it. House Republicans should be prepared to suspend all appropriations except national security and public safety. They should selectively zero out the least popular of the President’s initiatives and agencies. He can attack the House all he wants, but he can’t spend money without its approval. The conservative movement would be galvanized by such a display of firmness.
There are well over a hundred subcommittees which can be holding oversight hearings. Like the Lilliputians tying down Gulliver, these subcommittees can gradually educate the country about the waste, the cronyism, the corruption, and the radicalism existing throughout the Obama executive branch. The daily reports of hearing after hearing and scandal after scandal become a Fabian strategy of wearing down the Obama juggernaut and exposing its downside.
There is also a positive side to the hearing and oversight process. The House Republicans should ally with the 30 Republican Governors. Many of them are doing very smart things which could be applied to Washington. All of them can highlight areas in which Washington is forcing waste and inefficiency on their state. They give the House Republicans 30 star witnesses to layoff hearings. Several former Governors (notably Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour) would also make outstanding witnesses.
The combination of positive reform ideas and negative coverage of waste and scandal could make every subcommittee a star in its own right and create more communications than the White House could cope with.
Legislation is action. It is fact. It is reality.
House Republicans should start by scouring the bills introduced by House and Senate Democrats for every good idea. Every chance House Republicans have to pass a bill introduced by a House or Senate Democrat, they build an irrefutable record of bipartisanship. Let Harry Reid and President Obama explain why they oppose Democratic bills passed by the House Republicans.
In addition, House Republicans should look for specific, narrowly-drawn positive ideas and pass a vast series of small bills. Let the Democratic Senate either start behaving responsibly or let it become known as the graveyard of obstruction. Either a lot of bills will be sent to the President or the theme of Constructive Republican House versus an obstructionist Democrat Senate will become a major factor in the 2014 elections.
House Republicans should study the period 1824-1828. The Jacksonians were enraged by the outcome of the election of 1824 and they spent four years steadily undermining the administration of President John Quincy Adams. Their use of the frank and of Congressional communications is a masterpiece.
In 1996, a concerted, methodical House Republican effort enabled us to reform Medicare and win the communications argument. In 2012, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee did a splendid job of defeating Mediscare.
The House Republican leaders cannot out-communicate the President. It is a structural impossibility because of the White House command of communications.
However, 200-plus House Republicans (some will never cooperate) can more than overmatch an Executive Branch.
Having used appropriations to prove seriousness, oversight to define the debate, legislation to build a coalition, and communications to define the contest, then House Republicans can then negotiate from strength.
This is a strategy which can set the star for a successful 2014 and 2016.
More importantly, this is the right strategy for our values and for America.