How the GOP Can Use Its Mandate
The congressional agenda in the coming weeks will bear watching.
Now that the 115th Congress has been sworn in, congressional Republicans are finally in a position to act on an agenda they have been crafting over the last six years. And regardless of how unpredictable the new president may be, Donald Trump will be a much more willing participant in the Republican agenda than Barack Obama ever feigned to be in his headiest days of “bipartisan” deals.
Having a unified Republican government gives the GOP a mandate to push forward with legislation it could only dream of during the Obama administration. The big issue now seems to be finding the best strategic path to enacting what some are calling the most conservative political agenda since the 1920s.
The biggest items on the agenda will be undoing the damage created by ObamaCare and the massive financial regulatory overhaul passed in Obama’s early years known as Dodd-Frank. Senate Republicans will be aided in this effort by the budget reconciliation procedure, which was a tool crafted and used by Democrats to get around having to build filibuster-proof majorities for votes. This procedure will allow the GOP to defund elements of both laws and scrap other parts by simple majority votes.
It’s an old saying: What goes around comes around.
Budget reconciliation can also be used to make changes to the tax code to make it more business friendly and keep companies from moving overseas or parking their money in foreign companies. Trump has said all along that making America friendly to investment will make a big difference in boosting our economy. This is one way to make this country more attractive to business investment.
Unraveling ObamaCare won’t be easy, though, and the task of replacing it with a cohesive system is one in which Republicans will be hard pressed to find common ground. Repealing the individual mandate is a source of widespread agreement; what to do with the 22 million Americans who would lose their current insurance when ObamaCare ends is not.
This doesn’t mean a solution can’t be found. Republicans have had six years of honing their agenda and setting up trial runs of repeal votes and alternative plans. They’re not meeting the incoming Trump administration without ideas or a strategy. In fact, they’re likely in a better position than Democrats were when they were in charge because many key components of the Republican agenda have the support of American voters.
Still, the GOP must tread carefully. It has already had to reverse itself on attempts to make changes to the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
House Republicans voted earlier this week to make changes to the office that included bringing it under the direction of the House Ethics Committee and would place restrictions on how the office conducts and shares information on investigations.
Trump tweeted against the move, noting that there were much more important things for Congress to be spending its time on. Republicans duly stopped short of making any changes, noting only that Congress would revisit the reforms at a later date.
The optics of making changes that appear to weaken the independent ethics office on the first day of Congress are certainly not good. Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra means nothing if he doesn’t speak out against such an action, though there are downsides to governing by attacking his own party via Twitter. Yet it’s congressional Republicans who will lose trust with the public if they execute this ethics plan.
On closer inspection, the proposed changes would not have hamstrung the ethics office or opened a pathway to a culture of corruption as Democrats would have us believe. The power to ultimately decide guilt and mete out punishment in ethics cases resided with the House Ethics Committee in any event, so the independent office was not losing any power or privilege it previously held.
Perception matters, and Republicans should keep that in mind. That isn’t to say that Republicans must do what is popular to win over the media and the Left. Such compromise isn’t really possible thanks to the ideological chasm separating the parties. But the total-control-of-Washington mandate the GOP has finally regained after 10 long years won’t last forever. They must move strategically and with care. Only then can the harm done by eight years of Barack Obama be healed.