There is good reason to believe that the coming Republican Congress will be able to demonstrate that the GOP knows how to govern effectively and can be trusted with the presidency in 2016. In fact, this may be easier than it looks.
Without knowing or caring how the plumbing really works, the public has given Congress an approval rating of 10 to 15% in recent years. The problem has not been that President Obama has vetoed legislation coming from the Republican House; it is that Harry Reid's Democratic Senate has been a deliberate Black Hole, refusing to consider anything that was contrary to the White House agenda, with the result hundreds of House bills died on arrival, that committees in both houses stopped functioning, total spending was subjected to across the board limits of sequestration, functional budgets have simply been authorizations to keep on doing whatever you were doing, and policy disagreements have languished. And President Obama has found Congress an inconvenient nuisance.
John Boehner and Mitch McConnell do not need to invent the next social media app or re-write the Constitution. They just need to return to "Regular Order". And they will. In fact, members of the House and the Senate of both parties should generally appreciate the resumption functioning committees, the opportunity to offer amendments, and meaningful discussion inside and outside of the chambers. That is what they went to Washington to do.
A quick primer on what to look for in the Regular Order:
Bills are assigned to bipartisan committees by leadership. Members of the House and Senate are allowed the broadest leeway to offer amendments to legislation. The House and the Senate complete their budgets on time. Federal programs that are not authorized by an authorizing committee are not funded by appropriations bills - and they don't happen. The House and the Senate convene conference committees to reconcile legislation. Congress pays for emergency spending requests, or at least doesn’t put major spending items (like wars) off-budget.
Boehner and McConnell each have some shortcomings - particularly on charisma - but like Harry Reid they understand the parlimentary rules of their chamber. They have subordinates who can count noses. In the House Nancy Pelosi doesn't much matter; in the Senate, McConnell can work with Reid.
- John Boehner's official leadership team in the House has been largely together since 2010 - Kevin McCarthy who replaced the more disruptive Eric Cantor as Majority Leader in 2014, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden, Conference Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins, and Conference Secretary Virginia Foxx.The only new addition will be Republican Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer, a policy clone of conservative Indiana governor Mike Pence.
Paul Ryan - among the most knowledgeable people ever on federal government finances - will move from the Budget Committee to chair Appropriations where he will stamp all government spending bills.
- After seven years as Senate Minbority Leader, Mitch McConnell gets to show how well he can manage a 54-46 majority with 60 votes needed for most substantive matters. His team includes Whip John Cornyn, Policy Committee Chair John Barasso, Conference Chair John Thune, and Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt. All are veterans; none are presidential candidates; none are bomb throwers.
Personal relations with the President are not much to work with, but not much worse worse than those of Harry Reid's and Nancy Pelosi who rarely meet or communicate with their Party's leader. At first Boehner tried, and in 2011 thought that he had a grand bargain before Obama increased the tax requirement by an extra $400 billion. McConnell did famously say that his top goal was to make Obama a one term president - two years after the corruption and personal affronts in passing Obamacare.
With funding for most of FY2015 taken care of, there can be a policy focus on immigration, and development of a series of popular plans that had been held up by Harry Reid - the XL Pipeline; fast track authorization for foreign trade treaties; restricting the EPA's effort to regulare ponds and streams; some simple changes to the tax code; perhaps some small changes to Obamacare.
Led by Paul Ryan there will be a review of the 2013 Sequestration Bill which arbitrarily cut "Defense" and Discretioary Non-Defense" spending through 2021. There will be a serious proposal for small business tax reform. With the decision to accept the spending through September, came a commitment to use that time for thoughtful legislation which can pass both houses.
And a couple of comments on the bleed-over into the 2016 presidential election.
1. President Obama has shown no particular interest in working with Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, or doing things to make Hillary Clinton look good. His positions will be about helping him, not Hillary or the Democratic Party.
2. The Senators who may be running for President - Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz for the Republiicans and Elizabeth Warren for the Democrats - are removed from the chamber's power structure - freeing them up to give their speeches, but having little impact on the actual work of the Senate.
This week's video is Mark Halperin's take on Jeb Bush entering the 2016 race. One can make a good case for a contest between Jeb, Rand Paul, a Midwest governor, and at most one more serious challenger.
bill bowen - 12/19/14