Editor’s Note – In a recent Politico webchat, Fred Barbash asked Ron Haskins what Republicans should be doing – besides opposing President Obama – to improve their own “not-so-hot standing” with the public.
If Republicans are to take advantage of the opportunity served up to them by Democratic disarray, they must first realize that their greatly improved prospects rest on absolutely nothing they have done. They have wisely followed the sage advice of campaign pros who, when their opponent is busily engaged in self immolation, advise their candidate to shut up and watch.
President Obama and the Democratic Congress have undertaken a huge agenda, much of which is considerably to the left of the views of the American public, but have not been able to enact much of it. They are leaving each other dangling in the wind while the public sees futility. Further, during his campaign, Obama raised expectations by convincing the public that he was an agent of change. Yet watching Democrats fight with each other over their own agenda shows Washington at its worst – which is now even worse than usual because Obama promised in colorful language to change the backroom deals and partisan sniping, all the while blaming George Bush for everything except the weather.
Despite the politics of futility now being practiced by Democrats, if Republicans want to recapture control of Congress in 2010 and the Presidency in 2012 – and even more to the point to deserve regaining control of Washington – they must have an agenda. Somewhere in the Washington wilderness I hear a cry from Newt Gingrich: “Republicans, hark, you need a Contract.”
The last time Republicans shocked the political world (not to mention themselves) by winning the House and the Senate in the 1994 off-year elections, they ran under a Contract of ten mighty pieces of legislation that they promised to bring to the floor of congress within 100 days. After their electoral victory, House Republicans started with a blast by greatly changing the rules of the House, including a highly publicized move to subject members of Congress to all the laws they passed, greatly cutting back on congressional staff, terminating a host of congressional caucuses, and ending the practice of having buckets of ice delivered to congressional offices – a shocking holdover from the days before air conditioning. Having shown their seriousness of purpose, the House then proceeded to actually pass all ten pieces of legislation in less than the allotted 100 days, demonstrating a legislative discipline long absent from the House. Several of the Big Ten, including the most radical reforms of welfare in more than a generation, actually made it through the Senate as well and became law.
“Promise and deliver” will work again for today’s Republican Party. The New Contract, like the old, must include items that are popular with the public and they must pass the smell test of being something that Republicans would have the Party discipline to actually pass and that would help the nation. And, of course, they must be conservative. Within the next month or two, congressional Republicans should work together to develop an agenda on health, the environment, defense, terrorism, energy, and perhaps a few additional issues. In every case, they should follow the original Contract’s practice of actually reducing their ideas to legislative language in order to show they know exactly what they are proposing and to engage in the internal warfare that will be necessary to reach agreement before the proposal become public. But above all, Republicans must develop a policy that would solve the nation’s number one problem, the deficit crisis. This crisis, after all, is at least as much the fault of the Republican Party as it is the Democratic Party.
No issue is closer to the heart of the Republican mission than maintaining fiscal responsibility and limiting the growth of government and taxes. But having failed to limit the growth of government when they had the chance, and indeed having greatly stimulated the growth of government on a fool’s errand to buy their way into the hearts of voters, many Republicans believe their “No New Taxes” pledge is the way back to victory. Regardless of whether that claim is true, without new revenue the nation will not be able to solve its fiscal crisis, and without solving the fiscal crisis even a Republican return to power will be meaningless. Do Republicans want power to do something for the nation, especially our children and grandchildren, or do they want power for power’s sake? Just as in the days of the Gingrich Contract, Republicans should present themselves as a bold and confident party by telling the nation they pledge to solve the deficit crisis by both cutting government spending and by increasing revenues. 2010 is the year a political party could win under the banner of eating spinach.