Strong arguments can be made for removing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). After all, their leadership has sent the GOP into a death spiral — bad ideas and silly stunts chase out reasonable compromise and responsible action. Pretty soon the ordinary Republican cannot afford good ideas. The exaggerated promise to cover everyone in their respective conference in glory was not fulfilled. McConnell and Ryan have made their members more vulnerable; the least able to defend themselves will be hurt the most. The GOP agenda is dead. Gone. It’s failed. It and its authors must be replaced to end America’s suffering. Couldn’t we replace them with awesome leadership?
Well, wait a minute. You cannot just remove them with no replacements in mind. Can anyone imagine Republicans in each body coalescing around a single replacement for each? I can’t either. Moderates will have their ideas, the hard-liners their own. They will float one idea (for a leader) after another, trying to see which replacement candidate clicks. At some point, they will find out that there are serious splits in each body, reflecting an inability to agree upon the end goal. You see the problem.
Well, rather than repeal and replace McConnell and Ryan as leaders, could their tenures be repaired? After all, no leader is perfect, and if we can fix what is there already, we avoid the anxiety, disruption and uncertainty that change brings. What would a repair plan look like for the McConnell/Ryan leadership team?
Now, the analogy to the repeal-and-replace or compromise-repair approaches for health-care reform isn’t exact, but there is a common principle: Don’t simply discard what you have in search of a magic bullet/white knight in shining armor when you can work with what you have. We offer five suggestions for how McConnell and Ryan could recover from their monumental failure.
First, no more top-down plans. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is right: Regular order, with fact-finding, hearings, input from stakeholders, amendments and votes, has to return. That’s the proper way to vet legislation and build consensus. Never again can there be votes on major legislation if its contents are unknown days or even hours before the vote.
Second, turn to middle- and large-size items on which there can be some bipartisan support. A jobs training and apprenticeship bill would be a good place to start. Even the Democrats’ proposal to toughen anti-trust rules and prevent market consolidation (including the consolidation prompted by Dodd-Frank) could draw wide support.
Third, on tax reform, McConnell and Ryan should avoid repeating the health-care disaster. They cannot present a bill as a fait accompli with nothing in it that Democrats would find appealing. Instead, tackle consensus items first. Rack up some wins. For example, rather than comprehensive tax reform (i.e. giant tax cuts for the rich and a massive overhaul of the individual tax code), try revenue-neutral corporate tax reform (get rid of tax expenditures that favor one industry, or in some cases, one company). Work on a deal to combine repatriation of overseas profits that can be taxed at a hugely discounted rate, with the revenue to be dedicated for infrastructure. (Companies, of course, keep the remainder, which hopefully they will use to invest in new plants, increase employee training, etc.)
Fourth, it’s time to stop tolerating gross conflicts of interest, nepotism and possible emoluments-clause violations in the executive branch. Set up a joint committee, with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, that can come up with a batch of proposals. Then take an up-or-down vote. Republicans could even make the rules all prospective — applicable to whichever candidate wins in 2020. (This might be a way to discourage Trump from running again.) First on the list must be the required disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax records.
Finally, McConnell and Ryan need to bring moderates into leadership. The so-called Tuesday Group of moderates in the House and the handful of Senate moderates who helped beat back Trumpcare in the Senate have enough votes to sink major legislation. They will — fortunately from my perspective — be newly empowered after the health-care disaster. Better to have them inside the tent, able to shape the agenda, than outside and regarded as a nuisance that the right wing tries to steamroll.