So we’ve been talking here at the Hayride about this tidal wave, this earthquake, this electoral holocaust which is coming in November. And we’ve been describing all the reasons why the Republicans are going to get the votes to make John Boehner Speaker of the House next year. They might even have the votes to take control of the Senate; the conventional wisdom so far is that’s unlikely, but our analysis says if current trends continue the conventional wisdom is going to be worth what it’s usually worth – a bucket of warm spit.
So it’s November 3rd, and the newly-minted GOP House majority leadership is asking itself that famous Robert Redford/The Candidate question: what now? After all, following a massive wave election which sweeps them in and Nancy Pelosi out of control of the House, the American people are going to expect results. They’re going to want to see something done about deficits and debt, they’re going to want the tax code and immigration fixed, they’re going to want something done about Obamacare, they’re going to want an end to bailouts and favored treatments and they’re going to want to feel some pride in being American again.
But unfortunately, even if the GOP manages to cobble together a Senate majority to go with a Boehner speakership those things are simply not in the cards. Without a suitable majority to overcome a Democrat filibuster in the Senate or an Obama veto, the options for making substantial progress in substantive policy are severely limited. Boehner will need to perform major surgery on the expectations of the American people in the regards discussed above, because while he and his compatriots in the Senate might manage to pass some bills addressing those concerns the likelihood of legitimate reforms to get the country moving again is slim. The last Democrat president in a similar situation, Bill Clinton, chose to tack hard to the center and in doing so secured re-election in large measure by glomming onto Republican legislation and taking credit for the results. But Obama is not Clinton, and even if he does decide to follow his Democrat predecessor’s path he won’t swallow Republican reforms whole.
In fact, Obama has repeatedly proven his political style is the Chicago style. Might makes right with this president, and any progress made against him will require very tough dealing. Boehner and his gang will have to exceed the ruthlessness and audacity of the White House if they want to succeed – something the conservative movement is not yet convinced they’re willing or capable of doing.
So Boehner and his team are going to need to consider the next two years not in terms of immediate political success or policy triumph; in all likelihood they’re going to be engaging in trench warfare. Progress will be slow and bloody on the policy front – unless the House Republicans are willing to take steps to change the game in Washington by circumventing Obama’s veto in several key areas.
Five of those steps are outlined below.
1. The Inquisition. This is, on the surface, anything but an unexpected or unprecedented idea, but it’s what the Democrats fear most and it’s also perhaps the best way to pave the way for a larger GOP majority and a Republican in the White House after the 2012 elections. Incoming GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa is already considering hearings and investigations into the behavior of the Obama administration and the current Democrat leadership on a host of issues; he needs to proceed. In fact, if Issa was to make himself the new Torquemada and conduct a regime aimed at completely discrediting every Democrat in sight, starting with Nancy Pelosi and the myriad abuses of her speakership, those investigations would likely bear fruit. While the public perception of politicized hearings will initially be negative, that’s OK; if Issa gets going immediately and brings out some skeletons by the summer or fall of 2011, the results will be the main story and not the investigations themselves.
Let’s not forget that Pelosi has already told us investigations are her greatest fear. She’s been blasting out letters to Democrat donors using the fear of Republican investigations, invoking the name of Ken Starr and “the politics of personal destruction” and warning of impending recriminations all summer. It’s a classic case of one’s opponent showing his hand; if Pelosi is so concerned about Issa’s investigations it’s not for the sake of her convenience. Let’s face it, Pelosi is a gold mine all by herself. Whether it’s her misuse of military jets, her dissimilation on the CIA interrogation issue, the corrupt process by which she rammed through Obamacare or her blocking of accountability for corrupt Democrats in Congress, there is enough material out there to turn Pelosi into the Emmanuel Goldstein of American politics. And this is useful to the GOP, because while it’s unlikely Pelosi would return to the Speaker’s chair if the Democrats were to retake control in a future cycle, the current makeup of the Democrat Party would mean someone not dissimilar to her – like Ed Markey, for example, or Henry Waxman, or Debbie Wasserman Schultz – would take over. The American people need to have a frame of reference for what that would be like.
Pelosi isn’t the only piece of low-hanging fruit. When the House Ethics Committee commenced its long-overdue probe into Maxine Waters, she immediately cried racism. The new GOP majority should voice its agreement and launch an investigation into Barney Frank and his efforts to prevent reform of Fannie and Freddie before those two government-sponsored behemoths, operated by Democrat apparatchiks like Jamie Gorelick and Franklin Raines, burned our economy down. But the Obama administration, and in particular Attorney General Eric Holder, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Obama’s unvetted and seemingly unaccountable czars, has to be a major target as well. A resolution on the New Black Panther issue must be sought; ditto for the administration’s inexplicable decision-making on Salazar’s offshore drilling moratorium. The recent revelations of the Department of Homeland Security’s dropping cases against illegal aliens requires scrutiny, as does the decision to sue Arizona over its immigration law. And lots of other issues.
None of these probes need to be fishing expeditions. Issa and the other Republicans need to make sure that when they fire at a target, they hit it. The American people won’t stand for this if they think it’s political payback; real wrongdoing needs to be uncovered.
But even if it is, the GOP is going to take a hit. “The Inquisition” will be reported by the legacy media in the worst possible terms, even and especially in the event Republican-led probes hit paydirt and uncover fraud, waste, abuse and criminality. In fact, if Congress’ approval rating stays just as low as it is under Pelosi’s management, that’s fine; it’s actually a feature rather than a bug if “The Inquistion” so completely poisons the well in Washington that people hate everybody there with a passion. It’s OK if people hate Republicans, too.
Why? Because Step 2 involves a structural change which can have long-term implications.
2. Defund and devolve. The House controls the purse strings, and Boehner and his team need to use them as a garrotte on the federal government. To pass a budget through normal means will require the Senate and the President, but without the House agreeing to put money in to begin with, nothing gets done at all. And if they’ve got the will, they can take the broken budget process Pelosi is leaving to them and use it to the utmost advantage.
For example, lots of House Republicans are talking about de-funding Obamacare. The time to talk will be over in January; they’ll need to do it. But by all means, don’t stop there. De-fund Obama’s education programs, his EPA, his EEOC and every other federal department which is being abused by his czars or bureaucrats. It’s the power of the purse which is driving Boehner’s proposal to impose a moratorium on new federal regulations; while that’s good stuff it’s not ambitious enough.
In fact, in the case of the EPA the case could be made to de-fund the agency altogether. Every state has a counterpart body charged with environmental regulation; taking some of the EPA’s funding and block-granting it to those states amounts to a devolution of power from Washington. In places like California’s San Fernando Valley, for example, where idiotic EPA actions in shutting off irrigation have caused 40 percent unemployment in favor of something called the Delta Smelt, pulling the EPA’s boot off the local economy’s throat would prove quite popular. State agencies, should they choose to pick up where the EPA left off, would be accountable to those directly affected.
Parceling out block grants to the states with few or no strings attached, while at the same time de-funding federal agencies to a massive extent, is a game-changer. Why? Because the GOP is about to have some 30 or more governorships – it looks like as many as 35, in fact – after this fall’s elections. One of the things which isn’t being reported is that a massive Republican wave is going to hit the statehouses. So devolving power to the states by way of defunding federal programs is the easiest way possible to short-circuit Obama and govern the country in spite of him. It’s also a way to move power closer to the people where it belongs and drain the swamp of lobbyists and bureaucrats in Washington; something everyone in America seems to profess to want done.
Obviously, you’ll need more than just the House to effect this policy. But a budget which de-funds lots of agencies and begins the process by starving the federal government, with block-grant provisions heartily endorsed by large majorities of the nation’s governors, will not only shake up Washington but force the other side to compromise on favorable terms.
Which leads us to the third stage, in which negotiations ensue between Boehner and the president.
3. Federal employee reform. Once the federal bureaucracy is on Boehner’s chopping block, the president will be faced with the prospect of laying off employees or asking for pay cuts, pay freezes and other austerity measures. This is political gold for the GOP, since the majority of the American people are flat-out furious about the glaring disparity of federal employee compensation compared to the private sector. This disparity has been described as a bubble, and Boehner will be in a position to pop it. Obama, on the other hand, will see his political future as defined by how well he can save the benefits of unionized federal employees.
Herein lies a sensational opportunity for structural change.
What Boehner can do is offer a deal. A partial restoration of funding, to stave off some layoffs and furloughs and so forth, but under terms designed to break the unions to which federal employees belong. The arrangement might include some sort of block grant program that devolves power to the states, a federal salary/hiring freeze, and most importantly a reform of federal pensions currently underfunded as a condition for restoring some of the funding. On the pensions, the offer is a changeover that individual employees could take on an individual basis where they could take a tax-free cashout of their pensions and then roll that money into whatever individual savings program they want. By offering such a deal to the individual employees, you break the power of the unions; those employees are no longer pensioners-to-be but individual investors. And in most cases, they’re upper-middle class individual investors at that. This won’t make them Republicans overnight, but what it will do is make them a lot less enthusiastic about wasting money on union dues when they’re now in control of the most important benefit they receive as part of the union.
If Obama refuses the deal, he risks a government shutdown of sorts. The Republicans in the House can pass continuing resolutions to fund the parts of the government not subject to Obama’s social engineering – the armed forces, for example, or Social Security – but deny him the opportunity to govern. If there are some 30-35 Republican governors who very publicly state that they’re capable of taking on the functions the feds don’t have the money for, what you have a recipe for is a de-facto return to constitutional federalism. In some states this might not work so well. But in most of them, it will work just fine – most federal regulations could go away (or cease to be enforced) tomorrow and the average American would never notice a negative repercussion. And of the remaining ones, most could easily be replicated and enforced at the state level with no negative consequences.
It’s a real catch-22 for the President. He either has to be complicit in the ultimate destruction of the federal employee union structure upon which the Democrat Party is highly dependent, setting a precedent which might threaten public employee unions all over the country, or he faces the loss of his ability to govern at all in areas Boehner chooses to deny him funding for. Neither option is palatable, but Boehner has the power to present him with just such a Hobson’s choice if the will is there.
Once the table has been set to destroy the Democrats’ ability to project political power from Washington, another major step can be taken which would likely begin repairing the damage to the GOP’s popularity in time for the 2012 elections.
4. Changing the process on the budget. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington three weeks ago proposing to replace the annual budget with a biannual one, so you’d have a budget year in the odd years after an election, and then in an election year the budget could only be cut and not added to. It may be that a House rule is all that is necessary to put such a program in place, though if the GOP were to lose the House that rule could be sent packing. This, of course, is more a feature than a bug. Why? A biannual budget which eliminates the ability to add funding willy-nilly like Pelosi and Reid have conspired to do since the beginning of the current Democrat majority in 2007 (during which the federal deficit has exploded to levels previously unimaginable) would go a long way toward stanching the fiscal bleeding in Washington – and as such it is destined for popularity. It’s a hook to keep the American people interested in a Republican House majority rather than a Democrat one.
On the other hand, if in fact it’s necessary to amend the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act to institute biannual budgeting, I’m told it’s entirely possible that there may be Democrat votes in the Senate to do just that. This is, after all, a question of process rather than policy – and it’s a substantial change. There is none of the typical political advantage the Democrats look for; in fact, if by the time the GOP gets around to pushing this initiative it begins to look like the Democrats forecast themselves in a long-range cycle outside of power they’ll likely see a biannual budget as a chance to limit the Republicans’ ability to wield power and this as a hidden benefit.
Another idea would be to change the process from a resolution which isn’t binding to a statutory budget. Nothing would impose discipline on federal spending better than giving the budget the force of law. A Republican majority willing to take that step – particularly if they were able to pass a budget which slashed the federal deficit only to see it vetoed by the president – would be in a position to change the political landscape in ways the Democrats wouldn’t soon recover from.
5. Ethics reform. Dick Morris put forth a whole bunch of Congressional ethics reform proposals in a column he wrote two weeks ago. The proposals have the look of a big political winner:
• The establishment of an office of special prosecutor for Congress, with its head appointed by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for a fixed term. The office should have subpoena power, a well-funded staff and the right to convene grand juries and issue indictments. Self-policing by ethics committees obviously does not work.
• All earmarking should be banned. Congress cannot be trusted with this power.
• A ban on spouses of members of Congress serving on boards or accepting employment by any company or organization that receives federal funds. In cases like Mrs. Chris Dodd and Mrs. Evan Bayh, corporate board employment was a way for special interests to influence their husbands and pad the family checkbook.
• A ban on families of members of Congress serving as lobbyists.
• No free travel, whether sponsored by foundations or lobbyists. Only government trips on official business — real business — should be allowed.
• Full disclosure of the precise amounts of members’ net worth, debts, investments and holdings, including home mortgages.
• Full publication, online, of all committee votes.
• No student loan repayments for congressional staffers.
• A five-year ban on lobbying for members of Congress or their staffs after leaving office. The ban should also apply to employment by a company that performs lobbying services.
• If a senator or congressman is absent more than 10 percent of the time for reasons other than illness — including running for president — his pay should be docked proportionately.
• Term limits for congressional staffers. No staff member of Congress should be permitted to serve in a job that pays above $100,000 a year for more than eight years. If we can’t get term limits for Congress, let’s at least clean out the professional staffers!
Once the other four blows are struck, and you’ve basically destroyed the Democrats’ ability to spend money and exercise power in Washington, then a bunch of hard-core reforms like these which make it a terrifying prospect to steal from the trough will resonate with the American people and restore some faith in Congress.
The Congressional special prosecutor idea is a particularly good one, as it’s a poison pill for the Rangels, Waterses and the other crooks up there who think they can use politics to break the law. It also both insures a standard of ethics with the incoming GOP majority that will be superior to the Duke Cunningham/Jack Abramoff nightmare the previous Republican majority collapsed into and insulates the party from the inevitable corruption its membership will be subjected to at some point. It’s hard for the Democrats to cry “culture of corruption” about Boehner’s majority when it was the GOP which instituted a nonpartisan mechanism – and gave it teeth – to insure against unethical activity. Individual bad behavior, uncovered and punished, will thus be less reflective of the organization as a whole and therefore less politically damaging.
So while you might have the country screaming and yelling for the first year the GOP is in the majority, by 2012 when Boehner and his team are making rules that let the air out of Congressional privilege it’s perfectly reasonable to expect them to regain a lot of the popularity they might lose with the reaction of the Left and its media operatives to steps 1-3. But even if the successful implementation of this plan turns out to be a political negative, the structural changes it could bring about will have long-lasting political and logistical effects which will make it difficult for any Democrat majority and White House to reprise the two-year period we’re going through right now.
And at the end of the day, it is the structure in Washington which has broken down. The future of the Republic depends on remedying that failure. If Boehner is willing to aim for permanent changes rather than a series of cheap political scores to maintain his speakership, his majority can be historically significant even if Obama is bound and determined not to cooperate.