Congratulations are in order for the Republicans. After four years wandering in the political wilderness, the GOP recaptured control of the House of Representatives and nearly the Senate as well.
The now-majority party was booted out in 2006 after six years in control of both the executive and legislative branches of government. Government grew at an extraordinary rate during that time, causing many fiscal conservative voters to stay home four years ago. This year, those same voters, still eager to see the federal government shrink, came out in droves and voted for the Rs.
Republicans, however, are sadly mistaken if they conclude that last week’s impressive electoral victories are a vote of confidence in their ability to govern. Clearly, voters are upset with Democrats, and for good reason. But since our political system spurns third parties, Republicans are simply enjoying the fruits of being the only viable alternative.
Divided government is not a bad thing; far from it. As George Will recently noted, “gridlock is not an American problem; it is an American achievement.” These checks-and-balances were a reason the mid-1990’s were so prosperous. Growth of government was held in check, as a Republican-controlled Congress forced a Democratic – but pragmatic –president to moderate himself and his party.
Now, Republican leaders in the House are examining ways to assert themselves when they formally take control on January 3, 2011. They’re saying the right things, but as we all know, talk is cheap. Voters want action, and here is a real-life check-list for John Boehner and his fellow Republicans planning how to manage their newest majority.
First and foremost, Republicans must actually cut spending. Budget deficits over the last two fiscal years have eclipsed $1 trillion, and the ever-increasing national debt is in the mid-teen trillions. This situation is simply not sustainable. Republicans are expected to propose $100 billion in cuts at the beginning of the year. While that may sound impressive to the lay person, in reality it hardly counts as a baby step.
Two think tanks from opposite ends of the political spectrum — the National Taxpayers Union and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups — recently came together to propose $600 billion in spending cuts. The proposal includes eliminating farm subsidies and unneeded weapons systems, and streamlining efficiency in government. These proposed cuts should be taken seriously by Republicans as an actual first step to regaining some semblance of fiscal responsibility.
Secondly, in order to prevent prolonging our nation’s economic problems and to offer some real confidence to business owners, Republicans must restore the Bush tax cuts for all income earners – assuming that an extension is not accomplished in the upcoming lame-duck session.
Thirdly, Republicans must begin the process of defunding ObamaCare. Republicans lack the numbers in both chambers to repeal outright this legislation. However, by cutting funding for selected parts of the massive and costly law — especially if included as part of broader appropriations bills – the GOP leaders can send a very real message to Wall Street and Main Street alike that they heard and understand the message underlying last week’s vote.
These modest suggestions do not exhaust the list of actions the new Republican majority must take in order to being restoring fiscal sanity. Much more needs to be done to stop the current fiscal hemorrhaging that threatens to bankrupt our country; and the many trillions in unfunded mandates that will guarantee bankruptcy if not soon addressed.
David Cameron, Britain’s energetic new leader, has shown the way for the Yanks, by proposing across-the-board government spending cuts of some 20%. Surely if the Brits can do it, their cousins “across the pond” can at least start. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, as the likely chair of the Budget Committee in the new Congress, could be America’s David Cameron.