With the odds rising that the Republicans will capture the Senate majority, you hear voices on the right and the left bemoan the potential change in majority as a sort of political white elephant. “Ah, they’ll let the crazies loose,” predict liberals. Meanwhile, conservatives fret: “What if all we do is fight?”
We start with the simple premise that it is always better to win than lose in politics. It may soothe one’s bruised ego or calm jangled nerves to think otherwise, but with victory comes the opportunity to govern, shape the political landscape, change the direction of the debate and lay the groundwork for future elections. And while Congress often finds it difficult to seize the spotlight the moment the 2014 election is over — most especially if it is another “shellacking” of the Democrats by a revived GOP — President Obama turns from a weak and damaged leader to an irrelevant lame duck.
Aside from blocking unqualified and partisan judges and conducting vigorous oversight, a GOP Senate majority would have an immediate impact on foreign policy. Winning the Senate means the possibility for a severe sanctions regimen for Iran when the interim deal runs out in July, more robust funding of national security, action against the pro-Castro and repressive Venezuela regime, a series of measures to reaffirm and strengthen our ties to Eastern Europe, and reexamination of our policy (or lack thereof) in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. Could the president veto legislation? He could try, but many positions and concerns voiced by Republicans about the Obama foreign policy are shared by Democrats. Some action would survive a presidential veto and, in any event, action on all these fronts would push the administration to beef up its approach to national security in its last two years.
On the domestic front, the challenges are greater, but with the ability to steer legislative outcomes more to its liking, the GOP would be able to pass wildly popular measures (e.g. domestic energy development) and a slew of commonsense pro-jobs measures that already have passed the House (e.g. job training reforms, labor regulation tweaks to allow flexible work schedules). It would also allow the party to take on more controversial topics. Surely, the House and Senate could come up with an Obamacare alternative and a select list of immigration reforms (e.g. border security, visas for high-skilled workers, legal immigration reforms and even legalization short of citizenship) that could preserve GOP unity, demonstrate that the GOP has a proactive agenda and put Democrats in the hot seat.
A Senate majority would demand Republican restraint, discipline and prioritization, all of which have been in short supply at critical times. An inconclusive fight over tax reform, an attack on domestic discretionary spending (which is a pittance compared with entitlement spending) or pursuit of extreme and partisan entitlement ideas (e.g. private accounts for Social Security) would be a poor use of time and only give the Democrats ammunition for 2016. In the broadest terms, Republicans should steer clear of “take your medicine” legislation and pursue pro-growth, positive items that will appeal to a broad cross-section of voters.
A Senate majority would be an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they do have policies to reform health care and education, increase upward mobility, spur job growth and fix the immigration system. It is true that first the GOP must win, but shortly thereafter it must successfully govern. It would behoove elected leaders and policy wonks on the right to start thinking seriously about an agenda that would be the best opportunity in years to reintroduce and revitalize the GOP.