The Right Resistance: House Republican leaders must revisit the realm of the possible in 2023
“Is that supposed to intimidate me?”
You could hear it from a golf foursome partner who noticed you’re carrying a new driver with a winning brand name or from a lawyer who presents his or her educational background and experience before a conference to imply that your piddly lawsuit doesn’t have much chance of success when confronted with superior qualifications – and legal connections.
The soon-to-be-in-the-minority House Democrats are similarly jeering at the incoming-majority Republicans, plainly stating that the GOP’s thin numbers advantage won’t help them get much done because their leaders won’t be able to control the inevitable conference naysayers and henceforth garner sufficient votes to pass bills with a severe shortage of political capital at their disposal.
Democrats held comparably token numbers the past two years, yet were still proficient at pushing through most of what the party poohbahs asked of them. Needless to say, there’s much skepticism that Republicans can follow suit. In a report titled “House Dems on GOP's thin majority: Welcome to hell”, Sarah Ferris wrote at Politico:
“Democrats just spent two harrowing years navigating one of the tiniest majorities in House history. Now it’s the GOP’s turn — and things could get even worse.
“House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his team are set to take over in January with the kind of margins that vexed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but lacking the two decades of experience she brought to the task.
“And the House GOP will have to steer legislation through with as few as four votes to spare while its leaders deal with an emboldened Freedom Caucus, internal finger-pointing over a disappointing midterm cycle, and a looming brawl over a 2024 presidential primary that features Donald Trump back in the mix.”
It always cracks me up when reporters from liberal establishment media sources – of which Politico is definitely one – suggest that the conservative Freedom Caucus is primed to cause trouble for Kevin McCarthy rather than point to the handful of “centrists” who gum up the political machine with Democrat-like spending demands, committee theatrics or a fondness for being invited to come onto Sunday morning network or cable talk shows to bash their own party.
Yeah, like these Charlie Dent/Never Trump types are rarely the problem, right? Instead, the numerical majority conservatives are depicted as the issue for McCarthy, though they’re the ones who actually seek to keep the party’s campaign promises. We’ll see much more of this style of reporting starting in about a month.
To the lay observer, the GOP’s thin numbers advantage doesn’t have to be intimidating or daunting if they simply ingrain a few tried and true philosophies into their approach to governing.
First, lower expectations and focus on passing reform-oriented legislation on a limited number of attention-grabbing and base pleasing initiatives. Which ones, you ask? Well, what were the salient issues in the campaign? How about inflation/government spending? Or illegal immigration? Or crime/public safety? Maybe a national ban on transgender surgeries for minors without parental notification? A national 15-week abortion ban? These will at least force the senate to address the topics.
These are topics where nearly all Republicans (and maybe even a few swing district Democrats) can agree to a reasonable package of new laws to keep their promises and start moving the needle in the other direction before the fateful 2024 election rolls around, and hopefully, if the stars align, they’ll feel freer to tackle bigger topics in the next Congress when they could enjoy wider latitude to swing for the proverbial fences.
And having a Republican president to sign bills wouldn’t hurt.
By keeping the legislative agenda within the realm of possibility next year, a new Republican House majority can get something done without having to grovel at Chucky Schumer’s – or even worse, president Joe Biden’s -- feet. Conservatives recognize at the outset that Democrats won’t go for any formulation of new tax reductions, but they might convince their opponents to renew the rates passed at the end of 2017 (otherwise known as the Trump tax cuts).
Play small ball (a baseball term) and the realm of the possible expands considerably.
Next, ditch the notion of huge, all-encompassing omnibus-style bills that no one reads and/or gets to offer meaningful amendments. I can’t speak for all of them, but I assume most congresspeople – at least those on the Republican side – go to Capitol Hill intending to make a difference, only to eventually be disappointed and potentially corrupted by the DC establishment’s little game of kickbacks and giveaways and system stalling inertia.
The budget process has gone from tolerable if not disorderly with earmarks and leadership payoffs (for votes) to one where both parties embark on delay games to ensure that nothing ever gets done so as to mandate another end-of-year continuing resolution, where the work is postponed for another short period of time until the two sides negotiate one huge thousands-of-pages bill that purportedly contains everything the government needs to sustain itself for another fiscal year.
Meanwhile, House members don’t write the text of the bill; it’s done in secret by the leadership’s hired hands and finally shown to the rank-in-file along with firm deadlines and an admonishment to vote for “must pass” legislation.
If families have a difficult time budgeting and keeping track of every cent in their own expenditures, imagine trying to figure out where all of Uncle Sam’s cash goes. The job is literally impossible, and no quantity of audits and inquiries is going to change this.
Thanks to acquaintances who worked for the federal government and were wiling to share their experiences without naming names, I’ve heard about the frightful waste in government while they expressed, with frustration, that they couldn’t wait to get out of the mess.
One year I had a friend who was tasked with planning his section’s annual Christmas party. He was presented with a dollar figure and told to spend it all regardless of necessity because the money had already been appropriated and it wouldn’t be flowing back into the federal treasury if the holiday revelers didn’t use it on booze, food and decorations. If they tried to give the money back, it would impact the next year’s total outlays. At the time, he told me he could’ve planned a great, all-encompassing holiday party for less than half of what he ended up spending.
Think this doesn’t happen on a larger scale at every department, agency and office in the federal hemisphere? At least a handful of elected officials have regularly spoken out about the shocking fraud and horrific excess in government, and a few have even tried to do something about it. Senator Rand Paul attracted much derision from Democrats and most of his fellow Republican senators a few years ago by threatening and then carrying through with putting holds on spending bills, only to lose in the end because no one from leadership supported him.
So, McCarthy and Republican leaders could help themselves in whipping members by making it very plain what they’re voting for, then perhaps trying to generate grassroots pressure to lean on RINO holdouts to move in the positive direction.
For all of her litany of personality deficiencies and public relations failures, Nancy Pelosi took her limited House majorities and pushed through pretty much whatever she wanted. When the Biden-era “infrastructure” proposal was passed last year, for example, the San Francisco liberal strong-armed her leftist contingent into supporting the leadership version of the bill even though they didn’t get the hugely inflated spending figures they demanded in return for their votes.
And in the early days of her second speakership, Pelosi put members of “The Squad” in their places by informing them there’d be consequences (committee assignments, fundraising help) if they didn’t pipe down and toe-the-line when it mattered most. Under San Fran Nan, Democrats played politics like a football offense with Pelosi as coordinator. If you wanted to play, you performed your role or were stationed in the irrelevancy sideline.
Pelosi permitted the squawkers to say whatever they wanted on social media as long as they showed up and cast their votes with the leadership at the appointed time. And the former Speaker also authorized them to register a “no” when a contrary vote wouldn’t cost them the whole.
Republicans sometimes broke ranks to provide Democrats comfortable margins on many things, the bloated 2021 COVID “relief” package and so-called “voting rights” being the most notable exceptions. But how did Democrats ultimately pass their big spending packages? With so-called RINO support, that’s how.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand the new Republican House leadership will have quite a challenge keeping the party caucus disciplined and united. The vote margins are tight and the expectations are high. Republicans can still accomplish plenty if they’re open and transparent and limit their agenda to the realm of the popularly possible. Let Democrats worry about stopping them.
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