As the new Congress sets its agenda, there will be an incredible amount of pressure put on the new GOP majority to pass bills, regardless of substance, with bipartisan support to prove it can “govern.”
Yesterday Utah Senator Mike Lee posted a lengthy, by blog standards, essay at The Federalist, titled Mike Lee’s Plan to Fix Congress. It is a great read and deals in the realm of achievable goals and not in the fairy dust land of a Constitutional Convention, I recommend it to everyone. One of the points he touches on is a subject that is or particular interest to many contributors at RedState. It is the issue of how “governing” neatly dovetails with crony capitalism.
We’re going to be hearing that word, “govern,” a lot in coming weeks; as in, “Now Republicans must show they can govern.” What is meant by this is passing bills—quickly and with bipartisan support—and having them signed into law, in order to show the country that Republicans can “get things done.”
In this advice, there is much truth, and also a trap.
The truth is that, yes, Republicans should take every opportunity to reform federal law wherever common ground with Democrats can be found. And if good policy makes for good politics, as it usually does, so much the better.
But the trap is that Republicans in fact can’t “govern” from the House and Senate alone—especially without a Senate supermajority. We can clearly articulate our views and advance our ideas, and then see where we can work with the president and congressional Democrats. But we have to do these things in that order. We should find common ground that advances our agenda, rather than let the idea of common ground substitute for our agenda.
If we fail to grasp that, we will be drawn into advancing legislation that is both substantively and politically counterproductive, and that sends the wrong message to the public about our party. For instance, the easiest bipartisan measures to pass are almost always bills that directly benefit Big Business, and thus appeal to the corporatist establishments of both parties. In 2015, this “low-hanging fruit” we’ll hear about will be items like corporate tax reform, Obamacare’s medical device tax, patent reform, and perhaps the Keystone XL pipeline approval.
As it happens, these are all good ideas that I support. But if that’s as far as Republicans go, we will regret it. The GOP’s biggest branding problem is that Americans think we’re the party of Big Business and The Rich. If our “Show-We-Can-Govern” agenda can be fairly attacked as giving Big Business what it wants—while the rest of the country suffers—we will only reinforce that unpopular image.
Insofar as the pent-up K Street agenda includes good ideas, then by all means let’s pass those pieces by huge margins and send them to the president. But a new Republican majority must also make clear that our support for free enterprise cuts both ways—we’re pro-free market, not simply pro-business. To prove that point, we must target the crony capitalist policies that rig our economy for large corporations and special interests at the expense of everyone else—especially small and new businesses.
In other words, Republicans should seek common ground between conservative principles and the interests and needs of the general public, not just between Washington Republicans and Washington Democrats. And the search for that genuinely common ground will point to a lot of low-hanging fruit too, even when it comes to the proper relationship between government and business. We could pass legislation winding down the Export-Import Bank or the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. We could—and really, must—eliminate the taxpayer bailouts for big insurance companies in Obamacare’s “risk corridors” program. Or we could start to break up taxpayer subsidies for the energy industry or large agribusinesses.
Anti-cronyism legislation is win-win for the GOP. It is good policy, restoring growth and fairness to an economy that Big Government and Big Business have rigged against the little guy. And it’s even better politics, standing up for the middle class while pinning hypocritical Democrats between their egalitarian talking points and their elitist agenda.
Taking on crony capitalism is a test of the political will and wisdom of the GOP. To become the party of the middle class and those aspiring to join it—our only hope for success in 2016 and beyond—we have to change more than our rhetoric. The new Republican Congress does have to get things done, but those things have to be for Main Street, too, not just Wall Street and K Street. A big part of our “governing” test is whether we can stand up to special interests. Leaders like [mc_name name=’Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000570′ ] and [mc_name name=’Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’H001036′ ] in the House, and [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] and [mc_name name=’Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S001141′ ] in the Senate have made the fight against cronyism a point of emphasis—and it’s sure to be a theme in the 2016 presidential primaries, too.
This issue is reaching critical mass on the Right. And as I see it, it’s now a political necessity, another one that we should embrace rather than resist.
In passing anti-cronyism bills, we can either achieve policy wins for economic growth and opportunity, or we can let the president explain in his veto messages why taxpayers, whose take-home pay is stagnant, should be subsidizing corporations, whose profits have never been higher. That’s a brand-changing debate Republicans can win.
[mc_name name=’Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000577′ ] highlights two salient facts that we have dwelt on here at RedState. First, and foremost, Congress can’t govern alone. It wasn’t designed to do so and with the rise of the regulatory state and Congress’s enthusiasm for self-emasculation in delegating rule making authority to the Executive it is quite simply outgunned. An obstinate and obdurate president can flout both the law and the will of Congress… as we have learned to our dismay. The second, as my colleague Leon Wolf pointed out in his epic Dear Republicans: No One Elected You to Work With Democrats, there is no debt owned to Democrats on anything. To the extent they want to vote with us, that is fine, but America turned them out of office because it was not happy with them, not because it wanted Republicans to implement Democrat legislation.
Of course, the mothership of crony capitalism is the US Chamber of Commerce.
This is where good policy (anti-cronyism) meets wonderful politics (carrying fire and sword to the Chamber).
Over the past election cycle, the US Chamber of Commerce has presented a greater danger to conservatives than either the Democrats or the twits who run the NRSC. Their president, Thomas Donahue, is the guy who said that unless the GOP passes comprehensive immigration reform, which would provide an unending supply of cheap, illegal workers in search of eventual US citizenship, the Republicans shouldn’t bother fielding a candidate in 2016. The Chamber has pushed relentlessly for the reauthorization of the atrocity that is the US Export Import Bank. It is first in line to ensure there is plenty of government spending for its members. The sad thing is that even though the Chamber stands for cronyism, it is cronyism that produces “bipartisan” compromises that get approval from the editorial pages of the Washington Post and New York Times.