Now that Republicans are in control of both chambers of Congress, what should they do?
“Prove they can govern,” says a CNN headline. “Show they can govern,” suggests the New York Times. “Prove that we can govern with maturity,” offers Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado.
Different people mean different things by that phrase. Some merely mean that Republicans, having control of Congress, should avoid doing things that make the party look immature, irresponsible or incompetent. That’s surely true.
Others, though, appear to mean that Republicans have to show that they can get a lot of their bills into law. If that’s the test, I can tell you the results already: The Republican Party can’t govern the country during the next two years. Modern America can’t be governed from Capitol Hill because the executive branch has too much power.
Republicans can work with Democrats and President Barack Obama on legislation. But given the divergent views the parties hold on most issues, it won’t be possible often. And proving they can work with Democrats isn’t Republicans’ most important political task.
That task is to devise and promote an attractive conservative agenda to place before the voters. That’s an achievable goal.
Republicans could stand for a credible alternative to the Affordable Care Act that enables roughly as many people to get health insurance, but without all of the plan’s expense and coercion.
Republican senators also have a range of policies to expand higher-education options in mind. One would reform the accreditation process so it’s less of a cartel for established institutions. Another would make it possible for companies to finance college for their future employees.
On tax reform, Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Florida) will soon announce a plan that lightens the tax burden on investment by companies and provides relief for overtaxed families.
Few of these ideas are likely to become law in the next two years. But advancing themwould lay the groundwork for eventually enacting them under a more supportive president. It would offer Republican candidates a promising agenda to run on in the next election. And it would strengthen the impression that Republicans have solutions to problems.
When Democrats took over both chambers of Congress in 2006, neither journalists nor party leaders said that it was up to them to prove they could govern. And while they sometimes worked with President George W. Bush, they didn’t campaign in the next election on the basis of how cooperative they had been, or of how many laws they had passed.
There was nothing illegitimate about that. It’s a good thing when a political party develops an agenda that responds to the country’s needs, and places that agenda before the public for debate. If Republicans do that successfully, the public may just give them enough power to actually prove they can govern – in 2017.