Say Goodbye to Gridlock, Republicans
In a matter of months, Republicans will control Congress. (You read it here first.) While that will be an unambiguously positive development for certain members -- better committee assignments, more publicity, nicer office spaces -- it remains to be seen whether it will be good for the party. Or the country, for that matter.
A lot depends, of course, on what kind of agenda Republicans adopt. There is no shortage of opportunities for progress, if they care to pursue them -- on taxes and trade, on public works, on immigration policy. The theory, perhaps better termed the hope, is that control of both houses will be an incentive for Republicans to behave more responsibly, to show Americans that their agenda consists of more than just blocking President Barack Obama’s.
Read more from this series:
- Congratulations, Republicans, You Won. Now What?
- A New Republican Immigration Agenda
- A Tax Obama and Republicans Can Agree On
- One Road to Republican Success
Almost as important as what they do, then, will be how they do it. In a closely divided Senate, Republicans will not be able to accomplish much without a helping hand from Democrats -- especially since soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will require the approval of 60 senators for any legislation of consequence.
To reach that threshold, Republicans will have to offer moderate Democrats (and at least one independent) enough carrots to cross the aisle. If, however, their ambitions remain small, they may focus primarily on legislating through the budget process, where only 51 votes are needed for approval. In June, McConnell was blunt about his intention to use the spending bill to frustrate the administration, and just last week his spokesman said he would be willing to repeal Obamacare with just 51 votes.
A certain amount of strong-arming is inevitable (just ask current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid). But if Republicans attempt to defund and micromanage the executive branch, the next two years will be ugly. They could be far more productive than the previous four if, instead, Republicans used the threat of that power to forge compromises with congressional Democrats and the White House.
What possible reasons would Republicans have to do that, you ask? It is a perfectly legitimate question, and any answer besides "none" calls for some speculation. Once they control both houses of Congress, Republicans will have more to lose from gridlock. And once they turn their focus to the 2016 election -- which they will, starting Wednesday -- the presidential candidates among them may discover that they prefer their party to be known for something more than obstructionism.
Regardless, McConnell would earn some goodwill from Democrats -- and make it easier to attract more of them across the aisle -- if he keeps his promise to eliminate Reid’s heavy-handed practice of preventing the minority party from offering amendments, which has contributed to the dysfunction in Washington.
The mere fact of a Republican victory tomorrow will not by itself transform Washington's politics. Democrats, like Republicans now, will be an ornery minority; Republicans, like Democrats now, a stingy majority. Nevertheless, the most plausible path to success for a Republican Congress is largely dependent on the party’s willingness to travel with more than a few Democrats -- including the president. It may not be likely. But it's surely necessary.
--Editors: Francis Barry, Michael Newman.
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