Something rare and wonderful in politics has happened. It has very little to do with the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, although that is certainly a side benefit. What is truly remarkable is the massive amount of new blood that has been transfused into the Republican Party as a result of their victory in this election. It makes for a delicious feeling of uncertainty and unpredictability. Anything is going to be possible over the next two years, including a GOP implosion, a Democratic Party explosion, or a presidential meltdown.
About a third of the GOP caucus that is sworn in on January 3, 2011, will never have served in Congress previously. If they organize and stay together, they could affect everything from the battle to repeal health care reform to who becomes speaker of the House. Almost all of them are as conservative as any group of first-termers who have ever been elected. The question being asked by both tea party folk and the GOP establishment is: how wedded to “principle” are the newcomers?
Similar questions were being asked by Democrats in 1974 when the Watergate class of liberal congressmen upended the Democratic establishment and forever after skewed the party to the far left. There were 72 new congressmen in that class (the Democrats gained 49 seats) and they quickly organized themselves into a powerful caucus that changed the committee and seniority system, thus altering the way the Congress did business. Their example may be followed by this new group of freshly minted conservative House members who come to Washington as a result of the GOP tidal wave.
Not all of them have bubbled up from the tea party movement, but most are in sync with its goals: fiscal responsibility and a return to some semblance of prudent government. But what does that mean? We are in a nightmarish economy with slow growth, continuing job losses, and the specter of inflation in the background due to the irresponsible policies of the Federal Reserve. We are also faced with depressing budget deficits and a truly frightening national debt.
Is there no role for government at all in fixing this mess? If there is, the Republicans are not going to be able to accomplish much on their own. They will need to work with the Democrats and the president in order to get something done about the economy and the budget. Spending and tax cuts will have to be negotiated to have any chance of being signed by the president and put into effect. Otherwise, the GOP will simply be posturing, and nothing at all will be accomplished.
But the Republicans have already indicated that there will be no compromise with the Democrats, and the newcomers are completely in tune with that promise. In fact, if a move is made by establishment Republicans to work with the opposition, there is the probability that the tea party caucus will possess the solidarity to shoot down any attempt to reach a bipartisan deal on the budget and taxes with the Democrats. This will deny President Obama and his party any semblance of “victory,” but it will also prevent the GOP from achieving anything they can take back home with them to show their constituents how much they care about their suffering in this miserable economy.
Some may believe this is not important. If so, they are out of touch with the vast majority of the American people. And ignoring voters while doing exactly the opposite of what they desire sounds suspiciously like the very same strategy employed by the Democrats recently. The results for the GOP in 2012 are likely to mirror what happened to the Democrats in 2010.
When it comes to compromising with the opposition or “sticking with principles,” it’s no contest. A Bloomberg poll had it 80-16 for compromise, while a CBS/New York Times poll showed 69-22 in favor of working with the opposition to get something done. With numbers like that, it would seem that the GOP is willing to commit political suicide with their “no compromise” stand, playing right into the hands of President Obama. The president will no doubt make what are reasonable sounding accommodations with the Republicans, knowing full well he can do so safely since they will be rejected and the GOP will get the lion’s share of the blame if nothing gets accomplished.