It is the nature of the 24/7 news media cycle that the 2012 election already seems a long time ago. Since then we’ve had much excuse mongering by the Mitt Romney team (It was Sandy! They ran mean ads against us in Spanish!); opening offers from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the fiscal cliff and immigration reform; a presidential statement (no traditional after-election press conference, surely a sign that Obama has learned that he can ignore mainstream media with impunity); and the resignation of Gen. David Petraeus over an affair (conveniently wedged between the election and his now-postponed testimony on Benghazi). In short, events move fast, and the political debate shifts frenetically whether we are in an election year or not.
In the GOP weekly radio address Boehner recapped where we stand on a potential grand bargain:
Instead of raising tax rates on the American people and accepting the damage it will do to our economy, let’s start to actually solve the problem.
Let’s focus on tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and lowers tax rates.
Instead of accepting arbitrary cuts that will endanger our national defense, let’s get serious about shoring up the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our country’s massive, growing debt. 2013 should be the year to begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform.
Together, we should avert the fiscal cliff in a manner that ensures that 2013 finally is that year.
Shoring up entitlements and reforming the tax code — closing special interest loopholes and deductions, and moving to a fairer, cleaner, and simpler system — will bring jobs home and result in a stronger, healthier economy.
A stronger economy means more revenue — which is exactly what the president is seeking. And without a strong economy, we’ll never be able to balance the budget and erase our country’s debt.
It is that issue and the president’s ability to reach agreement with Boehner that will dominate the next few months. Given the extent of our economic challenges, the focus, I suspect, will be on what happens next rather than an election about which the public and press have had their fill.
Republicans in 2012 and 2013 will convene, argue, debate and ultimately reach no meaningful conclusion on what happened in 2012 (the same occurred after 2008). The course of the party will be set not by an elusive consensus on what went wrong, but on the decisions made from here on out, the opportunities lost or seized and the behavior of potential leaders in the party.
If you want to know which way the Republican Party is headed, see how these questions are answered in the months ahead:
1. Will Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) lead on immigration reform or get leapfrogged by bolder voices and more experienced legislators?
2. Will Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) be at the center of the grand bargain and then continue the quest for entitlement reform?
3. Will Boehner corral his troops to make a deal on the grand bargain that avoids rate hikes but includes new revenue?
4. Will Reince Priebus effectively digest the lessons of 2012 and construct a 21st-century election machine?
5. Will grass-roots groups, conservative media and hardliners in the House and Senate support or block reasonable immigration reform?
6. Will a record 30 GOP governors serve as a laboratory for policy innovation and teach their colleagues on the national stage how to run inclusive campaigns?
7. Will the GOP, as it did in 2009, nominate and elect (or reelect) reform-minded governors in New Jersey and Virginia who pave the way for the midterm elections?
8. Will Republicans in the House and Senate continue to defend defense spending while championing Pentagon reform?
Republican leaders in the House and Senate will need to take risks, as Paul Ryan did in slaying the Mediscare dragon. If they cower in fear of extreme voices or shy from putting forth a reform agenda that includes hot-button issues like immigration and Social Security reform, they will do their party and the country no favors.
The president, who ran with no agenda and is now a lame duck, has not distinguished himself by tackling tough problems. Republicans should not wait for him to act. The House majority survived 2012 because it laid out and stuck to a clear reform agenda; that should be a lesson to the faint-hearted and the naysayers in the grass roots.