Will doing as little as possible continue to boost the GOP?
The post-midterm hangover is still wearing off, but the Republican leadership is already starting to give a pretty good idea of what it intends to do once it assumes control of the House: not much.
“It’s my view that Americans are no more interested in a Republican platform for using government to re-engineer society than they were in the Democratic plan to do so,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a speech to the Heritage Foundation yesterday. “Republicans will focus on doing a few things and doing them well.”
“They want us to stop spending,” said House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) in an interview with Fox News last night. “And it’s going to be our principal goal.”
Apart from job creation, reducing the deficit and repealing health care reform, it’s hard to discern much else in the way of an agenda from the Republican brass — but even those items don’t hint at much legislative action. Republicans have consistently argued that, apart from cutting taxes, there’s little else government can or should do to promote job growth. Repealing health reform will be limited to a large, symbolic vote to undo the whole thing and several minor scuffles over funding for implementation.
The likely second-in-command in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), hinted at a similarly light legislative approach in a 16-page document he released yesterday called “Delivering On Our Commitment: A Majority to Limit Government and Create Jobs.”
“I believe we need to return to a committee-driven legislature that investigates problems, listens intently to the citizenry, and proposes well thought-out solutions when necessary,” the proposal reads. “Just because we’re in session, does not mean the House floor needs to be utilized. Repetitive floor votes and filling time with half-baked legislative proposals – as is currently done by the Democrat majority – is not a suitable answer.”
On the surface, a proposal to do next to nothing might seem like a risky strategy. The Congress that’s wrapping up had one of the most productive legislative sessions in the last several decades, yet most Americans still believed that it was either lazy, mired in partisan gridlock or ineffectual. But as The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait , if any cooperation with President Obama on policy issues will inevitably boost his stature, the GOP’s strategy makes sense as the most logical — albeit cynical — approach:
It’s probably always been true that the fundamental role of the minority is to oppose the majority and pave the way to winning reelection. America’s long history of ideologically amorphous parties, a relic of Southern Apartheid policies, created a tradition of cross-party cooperation. Those social norms persist, and both Washington elites and many Americans expect the two parties to work together as if they aren’t engaged in zero-sum political conflict.
But the truth is that, when the minority party cooperates with the majority party president, it generally makes the president and his policies more popular. The difference is that the Republican Party of 2009-10 is probably the first opposition party to fully recognize the dynamic and make this the core of its legislative strategy from the very outset. [...]
In the media you’re seeing a lot of familiar claims that the two parties need to work together. There is no incentive for the Republicans to do so. Even on issues where they can get a pure win, handing a win to Obama reduces their ability to gain the presidency in 2012. So why would they pursue an ancillary part of their agenda and reduce the chance to achieve the core elements of that agenda?
The trouble, of course, is that our political system isn’t set up to handle this reality. It was not designed with parties in mind. That’s another reason we have strong social norms dictating that elected officials ignore their political interests, at least for some period after elections. But that norm is dead. Meanwhile, we’re left with a political system that doesn’t work.