December 17, 2013

The pundits have already declared that 2014 will be “unproductive” for Congress. Well, the last couple of weeks have been the most productive for congressional action in some time. And the hearings and debate about Obamacare over the last few months have been extremely productive in educating the public and setting the political agenda. “Productive,” contrary to liberal orthodoxy, does not necessarily mean passing a bunch of bills.

 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

In 2010, House Republicans didn’t get entitlement reform into law, but they did get it through the House, kept the party united and focused debate on a critical issue facing the country. Arguably the GOP House should pass a range of measures on tax and entitlement reform, energy development and education to show the shortcomings of the current administration and give voters an idea of what they aim to do.

In addition there are 10 productive things Republicans could do in 2014, which would give the party a lift, improve its chances of winning the Senate and set it on course for 2016.

1. Defeat the unhinged right-wing Senate challengers and some Republican House hard-liners (e.g. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash) to reaffirm that the shutdown era is over. The cause of conservatism isn’t going to be served by defeating Republican grown-ups like Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), John Cornyn (Tex.) or Kelly Ayotte (N.H.). The 2016 contenders who lend the most support and help the forward-looking GOP reforms will do themselves some good when they need favors returned in 2016.

2. Nail down the 2016 primary calendar, a process already underway. Ending the race in May, holding a convention in June and eliminating the surplus of debates will ameliorate some but not all of the problems experienced in 2012. Do whatever is possible to limit or eliminate caucuses, which are unreliable, undemocratic and unhelpful in driving as many voters as possible into the GOP contests.

3. Reach consensus on an Obamacare alternative. It need not be in detailed legislative language, but a five- or six-point plan for post-Obamacare health-care reform should try to fix the damage wrought by Obamacare, improve selection of a variety of health-care plans, address insurance for high-risk inviduals and provide tax credits to equalize the economic position of those who buy their own insurance and those who get it from the government.

4. Nationalize the 2014 election around a few simple policy items: Repeal and replace Obamacare; develop domestic energy resources; reform education and improve access to it. Aimed squarely at middle- and lower-income voters, the aim  should be to promote opportunity and improve the quality of Americans’ lives.

5. Republicans who want to win elections need to stop giving to groups that work against GOP unity and electoral success. The DNC has no greater friends than Club for Growth, Heritage Action, Senate Conservatives Fund and their ilk. It is entirely within Republicans’ power to reduce their noxious impact in elections. Feed a cold, starve a right-wing attack group.

6. No GOP contender need to say anything on gay marriage other than: “It is now an issue for the states and I have complete faith in my state’s voters to deal with the issue fairly.”

7. Be responsible and bipartisan when it comes to foreign policy matters such as Iran. Republicans have more in common with some Democrats than those Democrats do with the White House, so they should encourage those Democrats when it comes to oversight and legislation. Public antipathy toward the president’s national security stewardship is growing as evidence of his recklessness on Iran mounts. Republicans with help from across the aisle can act as a corrective force, earning the voters’ trust and showing their ability to work with Democrats as needed.

8. Resist the urge to formally declare or undeclare runs for the White House. A singular and united focus on 2014 is the top priority.

9. Avoid doom and gloom. Welcome better news on the economy. The shutdown squad was wrong: 2013 wasn’t the last time to beat back Obamacare nor is the country headed for ruin. Good electoral choices and smart policies will reignite our economy and help steady us internationally.

10. Do no harm. No shutdowns, default stare-downs or other stunts that will convince voters Republicans can’t be entrusted with power.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.