This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 edition of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.
The Republican Party has not controlled the Senate since 2007. As midterm elections rapidly approach, polls across the country indicate a possible transition of power. But with President Obama in the White House until 2017, is it possible that twin Congressional majorities could actually be detrimental to the GOP in the future?
Many commentators have postulated that a Republican Congress would make the 2016 race easier for Democrats. They point to possibility that the Tea Party caucus would read victory as affirmation of their confrontational tactics. The man aiming for Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R –KY), has already said that he will attach riders to future continuing resolutions, bills that fund the government, which President Obama would be very much against. Senator McConnell understandably wants to pass more conservative measures or force President Obama to veto important legislation, but this tactic threatens yet another government shutdown.
Would a Republican Congress cause another government shutdown or try to pass unpopular pieces of legislation? Would this, in turn, make winning the presidential election more difficult for the Republican nominee?
If Congressional Republicans make serious tactical mistakes, overreach on a number of issues, or refuse to govern while in control, then a Republican “kamikaze” Congress is certainly a possibility. Nevertheless, a Republican Senate has the potential to do much more good than harm for the GOP.
Let’s examine the current Congress. Today, Republicans hold majority in the House of Representatives while Democrats hold majority in the Senate. With its current makeup, Congress has shut down the government, passed a budget only once in four years, and accomplished nothing substantive while trying to deal with important issues such as immigration reform and debt reduction. All this while its approval ratings have dropped to an all-time low of nine percent.
The status quo is bad for Republicans. Democrats blame the government shutdown of 2013 on the Tea Party, pin the GOP as the party of obstruction, and claim that Republicans are waging a war on women, ethnic minorities, and other left-leaning constituencies. The worst part is that a majority of the country believes them. While these allegations fly in the face of any reasonable analysis, they have become political memes nationwide. According to a recent Gallup poll, Republicans have an unfavorability rating of 57 percent.
No matter how strong the candidate Republicans nominate for president in 2016, he or she will certainly fail if these negative perceptions about the party persist. The Republican party desperately needs to disrupt the current state of affairs to have any chance of winning the next presidential election. Gaining control of the Senate is exactly the kind shakeup the GOP needs.
The biggest opportunity that gaining the Senate would present to Republicans is the chance to change its reputation as the party of obstruction. There are over 300 bills that have been passed in the House that are waiting for some kind of action in the Senate. Harry Reid (NE-D) is the single biggest reason that none of these bills will ever be considered by a Democratic Senate. If a Republican can replace Reid as Senate Majority Leader and take control of the Senate’s legislative calendar, some of these bills could make it to the President’s desk.
With control of the Senate, Republicans would also finally have a platform to present their new policy ideas to the country.
Naturally, the most important policy plan that Republicans would need to present is a potential successor to Obamacare. Even though the law is still highly unpopular, polling has shown that the nation does not want a complete repeal of the law unless another plan is ready to replace it. Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Representative Tom Price (R-GA), and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) all have good proposals; Republicans just need to unify around one, or craft a plan incorporating principles present in each.
Control of the Senate would also promote the consideration of common-sense conservative proposals to manage important national crises. For example, while Democrats control the Senate, no immigration reform bill can pass without having a pathway to citizenship for most, if not all, illegal immigrants. But should Republicans take control, they could pass a bill focused on securing the border as well as refocusing our immigration priorities on skilled immigrants. Ideally these steps would set up a cogent path forward on legal status for current illegal immigrants.
Majority status would also allow the conservative reform movement to take its true first steps. New proposals by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), who looks to break up the upper education cartel, or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who aims to create an economic environment where the middle class would grow and thrive, could be used to present the GOP as the party of reform. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has released a detailed welfare reform proposal thatcould shake up the conventional wisdom on the Republican approach to the safety net, building on the 1996 Welfare Reform success. Without a platform to debate and refine these proposals, they will remain academic. A GOP Senate would help to inject reform conservatism into the national consciousness.
Taking the Senate would also have important results in the realm of judicial appointments. Since Harry Reid used the “nuclear option” decreasing filibusters to diminish minority power during the judicial appointment process last November, the Senate has confirmed more than 60 of President Obama’s nominees to the federal bench. Six years of Democratic control of the Presidency and the Senate has pushed the judiciary far to the left. Should Republicans take control of the Senate, they would grind the President’s appointing spree to a halt. The change in leadership would also force the President to nominate more centrist judges if he ever wants to see them confirmed. Furthermore, control of the Senate will be incredibly important the next time a Supreme Court seat becomes vacant.
Of course, all of the above supposes that Republicans win a net of six seats in November. This is by no means a sure thing. The GOP has recruited a strong field of candidates and the President is very unpopular right now, but election season only started after Labor Day. There is a good possibility that many voters have recently learned about the candidates for the first time. Then there is always the possibility of a Republican having a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock moment. Conservatives will be watching closely the nail-biters in Louisiana, Iowa, Colorado, and elsewhere.
If Republicans can achieve the requisite margin, this election could radically change the status quo in Washington. Conservatives hope that this, in turn, could launch a renaissance of center-right ideas and a rehabilitation of the Republican Party. All Republicans need are six seats.
—Connor Kitchings is Associate Editor of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.
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