Viewpoint

How to end gridlock in Washington

Congress has historically low approval ratings. Gridlock and partisanship are the top reason Americans are so critical. But when you look at polls, the majority hold opinions that would do the least to change this situation they hate so much. People either want to split party control of Congress, which would perpetuate the current stagnation, or they don’t think that a change in congressional control would change anything.

If shaking up things in Washington is all you care about, there is an obvious solution: Vote for a Republican Senate candidate near you. This is not a partisan or ideological pitch. It’s simply the only available option this November for voters who are driven by their frustration with inaction.

The House is going to stay in the GOP’s hands, which means the two possible outcomes in November are that either things stay the same or Republicans take control of both houses of Congress. We know what the former produces: Bills that pass the House go nowhere in the Senate and vice versa.

Republican control, on the other hand, would give you the change you seek. That is what excites and terrifies partisans.

Republicans would have to prove that they can govern. For the moment, partisanship provides an excuse and impediment to action. House Republicans pass legislation, but their views never have to be sharpened or reconciled with those of their Senate colleagues. Control of both houses could force clarity in the GOP on issues like immigration, which leaders have ducked so far, claiming they didn’t have a trusted partner in the president. That is a dodge to keep from starting a fight in the party over a contentious issue.

When you control both houses, this kind of inaction can’t be allowed if the goal is to be taken seriously as a governing party. Republicans would also have to provide more concrete votes on issues like health care, tax reform, and implementing portions of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. Republican strategists know the GOP has to shake the “Party of No” label, which means producing actual accomplishments.

Republicans in the Senate face a terrible landscape in 2016 with 24 incumbents up for re-election. Many of them – including North Carolina – will be in states where increased Democratic turnout in the presidential year will imperil their chances for re-election to the Senate. Those GOP senators can’t run on having done nothing.

Perhaps the pressure on Republicans in the Senate will lead to legislation that the president, conscious of his legacy, can sign. The first easy score would be Trade Promotion Authority, which would give President Obama the tools to complete and sign trade agreements in Asia and Europe. Democrats have blocked it. You could also imagine a pathway to immigration reform if those Republicans who think passing something in 2015 is key to the party’s long-term survival came together with a president thinking about his legacy.

Even if none of this comes to pass, and the president vetoes everything he is sent, and Democrats filibuster as their Republican colleagues did, policy debates would still be sharper than the ones we have now. Both GOP houses would have produced legislative language, votes would have been taken, and all of this activity would clarify the lines of debate heading into the presidential election in 2016. That would not revolutionize governance, but given the two possible outcomes in November, if you’re making your choice on what scenario might crack the peanut brittle casings of governance, Republican control of the Senate offers the best chance.

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