FOR MANY HOUSE Republicans, 1983 has been a dreary year. After the excitement of being the major part of a working majority in the House in 1981 and 1982, and passing most of President Reagan's program, the Republicans lost 24 House seats. The able minority leader, Robert Michel, was nearly beaten in his district in Illinois. Working control of the House passed to Tip O'Neill and the Democrats. When bipartisan agreements on the gas tax, Social Security and the MX missile were worked out, House Republicans were scarcely consulted. Their votes were taken for granted, and their advice was not sought.
As a result, they have gone back to the "guerrilla tactics" they used to employ. House Republicans for years enjoyed the luxury of irresponsibility: they voted regularly against foreign aid and raising the debt ceiling, secure in the knowledge that those with responsibility for keeping the world working would scour up enough votes among the Democrats to get those bills through. In 1981, that came to a halt: more than 100 House Republicans had to vote to raise the national debt. Now things are back to the historical norm. Most House Republicans voted against the recent International Monetary Fund bill, and the National Republican Congressional Committee had the gall to send out letters attacking Democrats for opposing an amendment to it-- even though President Reagan and Mr. Michel support the bill and oppose the amendment. 2 The House Republicans, despite--or because of--such tactics, may be well positioned to increase their numbers in 1984, and for the same reason the Democrats have a chance to increase their numbers in the Senate: minority parties have more incumbents who can be challenged and fewer who can lose. The Republicans lost 24 seats in 1982, and they have few weak incumbents left; the Democrats have some shaky freshmen, plus some older members who may have gotten tired of going back to their districts every weekend. So far, neither side is confident of fielding as many scrappy, aggressive challengers as the Republicans had in 1980 or the Democrats in 1982. Potential candidates seem to be waiting for national trends and President Reagan's intentions to become clearer.
So, although the chances are strong that the Senate will have more Democrats in 1985, the House may have more Republicans. Regardless of who is president, that would produce a very delicate balance on both sides of the Capitol. In this Congress, the Republican leadership in the Senate and the Democratic leadership in the House, both with fair majorities, have been able to work constructively together on several difficult issues. Can leaders with more tenuous majorities do the same in the next Congress? Or will its politics consist of more of the guerrilla tactics that come naturally to the minority in the House today?