Perhaps we should have seen the dearth of new ideas after looking at the three bills touted in Boehner’s press release. The “Hire More Heroes” Act would let businesses hire veterans already covered by Defense Department health-care plans without having them count toward the Affordable Care Act’s rule that businesses with 50 or more employees must offer health insurance. The bill is a fine gesture, but targets a vanishingly small portion of the population. The second — approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline — can be debated on the environmental and energy merits, but studies have found that at most, the pipeline will create only 42,000 short-term jobs (a small percentage of healthy growth over the course of a year) and 50 (yes, fifty) long-term jobs.
The third — changing the ACA’s definition of full-time work from 30 hours to 40 hours — is the farthest-reaching and the most destructive. Even conservative policy maven Yuval Levin (who opposes the individual mandate) says “employers are less likely to reduce a worker’s load by 10 hours than by just 1 or 2 to avoid the mandate … So by setting the definition lower, Obamacare’s architects were trying to mitigate the damaging effects of the employer mandate some, and by setting it higher Republicans would be worsening those effects.”
And when we look at the more than 200 bills Republican senators and representatives proposed in the first week of the new Congress, an even more depressingly familiar picture of the party emerges. Republicans’ priorities are clear: They want to deregulate the environment, repeal Obamacare and derail the president’s immigration plans. Those were the three most common topics of the bills introduced, along with bills or resolutions to cut spending, force a balanced budget or restrict Obama’s options the next time the United States hits a debt ceiling crisis. Economic packages were almost entirely absent, relegated to secondary reasons for deregulating the environment or repealing Obamacare.
And fresh ideas on either immigration or health care are noticeably absent as well. Rep. Steve King’s ObamaCare Repeal Act runs less than 180 words, just long enough to repeal the law with no replacement. Rep. Ted Yoho’s “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act” just prohibits the president from carrying out his immigration executive order (again offering no replacement plan), which would be a great solution if Congress had any constitutional authority to do that.
Other standouts from the Republicans’ first week:
- Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) offered three spending bills that would cut most discretionary spending by one, two and/or five percent. Her remarks and press statement don’t explain why she offered a choice rather than combining them into one big eight percent cut.
- Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) sponsored H.R. 116, which “would allow a small business operating in the United States to elect to be exempt from any federal rule or regulation issued on or after January 20, 2009.”
- Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who is running for Louisiana governor this year, was a fountain of bad ideas, but perhaps his best was S. 63: “A bill to require all public school employees and those employed in connection with a public school to receive FBI background checks prior to being hired, and for other purposes.” There is no word on whether teachers would be disqualified for using prostitutes.
To some degree, the persistence of the die-hard faction in the Republican Party is hardly surprising; after all, it’s hard to think of many far-right conservatives who lost this past Election Day. But it cannot be a coincidence that a Republican economic agenda is little in evidence at the same time that the economy is growing at its fastest rate in years. As of yet, the party still wants to be seen as making jobs its priority; it just can’t figure out what policies will support that impression. As conservative writer James Pethokoukis says, “It’s not just that Republicans need to offer a positive agenda; they also need one that goes beyond an obsession with deficits and debt and that tackles the everyday concerns of most Americans.” If Mitch McConnell’s dream of a Republican White House and Congress is to come true, the party will have to come up with something fast.