Editorial Board

Congratulations, Republicans. Now What?

Republicans appear poised to take over Congress. Here's what they should do. 

Allow us to be the first to congratulate Republicans on their victory. The election is not until next week, but it seems pretty clear that, come January 2015, they will control both chambers of Congress. (And if they don't, check back here for an explanation and a helping of humble pie.)

Now the question is what they intend to do with their newfound power. At a conservative think tank last month, House Speaker John Boehner gave a speech titled "Five Points for Resetting America's Economic Foundation." It was billed as a policy framework for Republican governance, exactly the sort of plan a party leader should deliver in advance of a national election. Unfortunately, Boehner's remarks were so bland as to resist analysis, never mind debate. And, given the realities of a polarized electorate and a divided government, there is a limit to how much a Republican Congress might accomplish.

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Could that limit prove surprisingly high? Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, earlier this year produced a viable blueprint for tax reform -- which promptly went nowhere. Camp plans to retire in January, but that shouldn't prevent his colleagues from resurrecting his plan. Pending trade agreements have supporters in both parties. Get them on a legislative track. Infrastructure spending can't wait until all the bridges collapse. Roll out (at historically low borrowing costs) some investments -- and claim credit for the jobs created.

Dealing with other issues will require a degree of honesty -- especially with their own voters -- and a willingness to compromise that Republicans have shown too rarely in recent years. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law more than four years ago. The law so far has been a qualified success. Either improve it or get out of its way. In any case, stop the hyperbole, dissembling and scare tactics. Similarly, passing legislation to reform immigration policy -- which the Senate did but the House did not in the current Congress -- falls under the category of Obvious But Difficult.

No one is predicting an outbreak of comity in Washington. Yet promising legislative avenues may be more numerous, or at least less clogged, than is commonly believed. In the coming days, we'll try to identify a few. Like their rival in the White House, Republicans could use a few wins. They would do well for themselves by doing good for the country.