The more likely a GOP takeover of the Senate becomes, the more Democrats will announce that this is really a bad thing for Republicans. They can’t accomplish anything. They’ll hurt themselves for 2016.
Let’s get real: Winning is better than losing in politics. But it does behoove the House and Senate GOP leaders to figure out where they want to go and where they don’t should Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate.
Here are some basics:
No shutdowns. No defaults. Legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in February suspends the debt limit until March 15, 2015. The exact date of these things can sometimes move around a bit, but there will almost certainly need to be an additional debt-limit increase before President Obama leaves office in January 2017. Likewise, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement set the top-line discretionary spending levels for fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015. Following that agreement, Congress passed and the president signed an omnibus appropriations bill. It will fund the federal government through the end of fiscal year 2014 — Sept. 30, 2014. Congress will need to pass new spending legislation to fund the government past Sept. 30. Republican Senate and House leaders should be crystal clear: The government stays open, and the debt ceiling gets raised. They don’t need to hold these items hostage, because they can bring the bills and amendments they want to the floor.
Pass Iran sanctions in the Senate. There is a veto-proof majority in favor of a new sanctions measure if, as expected, there is no final deal on nukes. In the meantime, the threat of military action can be made more real by voting to authorize transfer of bunker-buster weapons to Israel.
Determine where Russia has cheated on arms deals and other obligations. It’s time to establish the full damage from Russian reset. With that evidence Congress can exercise proper oversight and, if need be, take additional measures, such as sanctions against Russia. Pass legislation to speed shipment of liquefied natural gas to Europe and other measures to lessen European dependency on Russian energy.
Pass Obamacare repeal and vote on a replacement in the House. It’s high time the House showed that it can put several good plans out there together and pass something. The issue is not whether the president will sign it. Rather, it should be seen as inoculation against the accusation that in 2016 the GOP plans to repeal Obamacare and “take away your health care.” GOP presidential candidates may have their own ideas, but institutionally the House needs to show that it can govern and address the issue that it has complained about since Obamacare was signed.
Make Senate Democrats vote on an Obamacare alternative. If they block it and if their Democratic presidential nominee opposes it, they can defend in 2016 their fixations with an unpopular and unworkable health-care plan. Don’t bother with a reconciliation process. Better to force the Democrats to vote on something and to save reconciliation for post-Obama, when a GOP president could sign something.
Make Obama veto popular items. Pass a domestic energy bill. Pass tuition transparency, student loan reform and K-12 school reform. Pass a bill to implement pilot programs for states along the lines of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan. (It received bipartisan support from liberal and conservative lawmakers and wonks.) Again, Republicans can be the party of progress, and Democrats will have to defend their devotion to the status quo. And who knows? Maybe some of these items could get through.
Immigration reform. There is actually growing consensus among Republicans on immigration, which happens to be a position popular with voters: Border security first. Reforms later. (And if the president acts unilaterally this summer, Republicans can vote to censure him and undo his unconstitutional power grab.) With majorities in both houses, the GOP can draft and try to hold votes on the sort of bills some conservative senators with an eye on 2016 say they would support. Include legalization without citizenship. (Didn’t a bunch of Republican hard-liners say that citizenship, not legalization, was the real deal-breaker?) Include H-1B visas, e-Verify and visas for foreign students with high-tech degrees. If Obama wants to veto such measures, fine. Then immigration reform ceases to be a stick with which to beat Republicans.
This will be a test for several of the GOP senators who say they want to be president. Can they legislate, or are they capable only of throwing sand in the gears and heightening confrontation? It’s only fair that they should be judged not just on what they say they want to do but what they actually vote on when given the chance.