Congressional Republicans have been handed a golden opportunity and they would be foolish to waste it. For two years, they will have control of both the House and the Senate, which will prevent Democratic legislation from ever passing muster and allow Republicans to create bills of their own that the Senate will actually vote on. After years on the defensive, this is the perfect opportunity for Republicans to show the American people that they have both the ideas and the ability needed to govern. However, the threat of filibuster in the Senate will prove to be a thorn in the Republican side and must be addressed.
Republicans have to be willing to play politics to win, both for themselves and for the good of the country. The soon-to-be Minority Leader, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), needs to be exposed as the obstructionist that he has been since 2011. Reid should be notorious for refusing to consider the hundreds of pieces of legislation that have passed the House in the past four years. Republicans have been decried as obstructionists, but the media has largely glossed over the fact that Reid does not even let the Senate vote on most Republican-sponsored or House-passed bills. The best way to expose him is to force a Democratic filibuster on a piece of legislation from the House that is brought to the floor for a vote.
This cannot be any piece of legislation. This bill (or repeal of a bill) must be well-developed, carefully worded, and must accomplish something mildly important. Additionally, it must be thought to be supported by a majority of Americans. While these are stringent requirements, they are necessary because Reid must be seen as opposing the will of the American people without a legitimate excuse. And if the bill were to pass, it needs to actually do something.
When Reid initiates the filibuster, a motion to invoke cloture should not be attempted. Instead, Senate Republicans should force the Democrats to continuously filibuster to prevent the legislation from ever receiving a vote. It might require some discomfort on the Republican side, but it forces the Democrats’ obstruction into the public eye on a bill that would probably have public support. Of course, if the Democrats do not take the bait, a good bill is passed and the President is forced to act.
If the Senate filibuster begins, but then collapses, and the legislation is passed, then Congress has passed the ball to the President. If he vetoes the legislation, then Congress can claim that the President obstructed its agenda and that it was trying to pass legislation to help the country. If the President does sign the bill, then the positive policy will be implemented and Congress can point to the bill’s passage as action, and bipartisan action at that.
But if the Senate maintains the filibuster indefinitely and the cloture vote fails, then Congressional leaders need to emphasize the value of their legislation and point to the Democrats in the Senate as obstructionists opposed to Congressional action. The key to this tactic is controlling the message, and portraying the Democrats as obstructionist is vital.
Of course, the key to success is both finding the right legislation and staying committed to the strategy. Republicans need to create practical, problem-solving legislation that will improve American lives and will not alienate a large percentage of the country. It means tackling a variety of issues, but not going overly-broad. Republicans should not repeatedly hammer on a full repeal of Obamacare when they could pass a border security bill and remove some burdensome regulations in the same space of time.
This strategy is not a “sell-out” strategy; rather, it is about showing Americans that Republicans are ready for full governance and have an arsenal of ideas and leaders prepared to get the job done. Committing to sticking to the strategy is imperative. Republicans should continue to act as big government watchdogs and serve as a barrier to President Obama on serious issues, but they need to start generating meaningful legislation that a significant number of Americans can get behind.
All this strategy might make for interesting political theory, but what might comprise a “2015 American Agenda” in reality? It certainly would delve into the budget, the size and scope of government, the economy, immigration, and foreign policy–a “Big Five,” if you will. It certainly should not address topics that federal government should not or cannot legislate. It also does not mean Republicans should forget about issues like education or gun rights, but it acknowledges that those issues are not best addressed in the United States legislature.
An “American Agenda” addressing the “Big Five” issues must contain a number of principles. It must commit to balancing the budget, enacting tax code reform, and re-prioritizing spending. It must commit to limiting the government to its constitutionally mandated responsibilities and respecting individual rights. It must commit to promoting economic growth through proper trade and regulatory policy and enabling free enterprise to succeed. It must commit to securing the border and then finding a practical solution for undocumented immigrants. It must commit to defending Americans at home and defending her interests while not bogging the nation down in constant warfare.
Obviously, Republicans would have to present more articulate, detailed principles and plans for realizing these goals. That will be only the first challenge of the next two years. Republicans have to attempt to implement a new agenda by overcoming the Senate filibuster, the Presidential veto, and a bad reputation. However, they can win this fight by pushing for strong legislation, winning the messaging war, and working harder than ever before.
The GOP cannot afford to waste this opportunity. As George Patton once said, “Better to fight for something, than live for nothing.”