In its first few weeks with full control of Congress, the Republican Party’s leadership seems to be spinning in circles without a roadmap for where it wants to go. From offering seemingly half-a-dozen responses to the State of the Union, to the House’s abortion bill confusion, to general Congressional chaos on immigration, the GOP’s leadership looks woefully unprepared and confused. If the party’s leadership cannot provide a clear direction, Republican majorities and presidential hopes will not be the only thing that is threatened: more importantly, the country will continue to suffer economically.
The GOP is hampered by ideological differences, constituencies with different priorities, and ineffective leadership. Even if the various wings of the party agree on some issues, Republicans still have to balance fiscal and social conservatives with more libertarian and moderate members, and must also recognize that Southern conservatives often have different priorities than Northern conservatives. Having differences of opinion in a coalition is a good thing, as different ideologies spur debate on issues and prevent single-minded thinking that discourages innovation. However, the party’s leadership still has to provide a vision for Congress and the nation, and a plan of action to accomplish that vision. Leadership has to find what members agree on, and prioritize these issues while leaving others open for debate.
The current leadership has not yet shared a vision for America. It needs to lay out the problems it believes government should and can (legally) fix, explain what principles and beliefs would best guide government, and any ideas or solutions it already has planned. Representatives and Senators can then create legislation that offers practical, principled solutions for the aforementioned problems. If Democrats are reluctant to support any major Republican legislation, then House and Senate leadership must take their arguments to the American people so they can be convinced and then lobby their elected officials. Perhaps slightly idealistic, but the point remains: prioritize problems, solve them using principle, and then convince the public and doubting elected officials of their merit.
To promote good will and garner new ideas, Republican legislators should seek Democratic input on new legislation. Republicans do not and should not compromise on the conservative, principled backbone of their legislation just to score media points, but it does not mean Democratic colleagues don’t have some good ideas.
Given the realities of 2015 America, Congress should be focused on the economy and the scope of government. The middle class keeps shrinking, wages continue stagnating, and low income jobs have kept replacing middle income jobs since the bottom of the recession. The federal government has grown more powerful, at the expense of both the states and the people. Immigration has also become a divisive issue due to the government’s inability to address the problem.
Ultimately, people are dissatisfied with government and its inability to address the nation’s chief concerns. In a Gallup survey that asked citizens about America’s “Most Important Problem,” 34% identified the economy or economic problems, 17% identified dissatisfaction with government, and immigration, at 8%. Despite these things being the three biggest concerns Americans have, Congressional leadership has failed to establish a plan for addressing the first two problems, and the third has proved highly contentious among Republicans.
Rather than address one of these major issues, however, Congress spend last week wrestling with a confusing abortion vote that saw sponsors drop and the measure ultimately fail. As contentious as the abortion debate can get, abortion was identified by less than 1% of citizens as the “Most Important Problem” when polled by Gallup. The Republicans do not need to throw the issue off their platform or their legislative agenda, but they should not have begun the new Congressional session with it. The measure would not have gotten through a Senate filibuster or a Presidential veto–not to mention the House itself–and does not address the chief priorities of the American people. Additionally, the Constitution, states, and the courts are the only real ways for the pro-life movement to make a legal impact. But the House leadership embarrassed itself by prioritizing something that was not even supported by enough conservative House Republicans.
Now that the GOP commands a media spotlight, Republican leaders need to broadcast the party’s conservative principles of free-market economics and small Constitutional government. They should look toward the Contract for America, the GOP platform, or a collection of conservative minds to create a legislative agenda that focuses on economic revival and small government. America needs a strong economy, one in which entrepreneurs can create jobs and innovate, to help keep the United States as an economic powerhouse and a world leader. This basic ideology is what unites Republicans, and it is a simple and effective argument the GOP can both make to the American people and act on with pro-growth legislation.
House and Senate leaders must prioritize the economy and show Americans that they can take the offensive and be productive to help all of America. There is no need for Congress to work miracles, but we do need its leaders to lead.