After dutifully watching all of the Republican presidential debates, I have arrived at an irrefutable conclusion: regardless of which GOP contender you may want to challenge President Obama this fall, our collective goal must be to get rid of this guy once and for all.
I refer, of course, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
I know, I know. The planet is fixated on the primary sweepstakes at the moment, largely because the media have successfully marketed this process as a must-see-TV event combining the best elements of American Idol and the UFC. And to their credit, the networks and cable providers have created a hit show in an otherwise forgettable TV season.
(This is not my observation. My son is currently a writer and producer of The Office on NBC, and a while ago I asked him how the network’s new fall lineup was faring. His response: “I don’t think we’ll have one show that will run as long as the Republican debates.”)
So don’t touch that dial. All I am asking my fellow GOPers and curious independents to do between episodes of the Republican Road Show is to check out what is happening in the Democrat-controlled Senate under the direction of Maestro Reid.
Perhaps I should say: check out what is not happening. On January 24, 2012, while we focus on Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, Harry Reid’s Senate will be celebrating their 1000th consecutive day without passing a budget. Not only is this an unprecedented dereliction of duty, it may actually be a violation of law. However, given the president’s cavalier attitude towards the legality of recess appointments and his attorney general’s reluctance to protect voters in Philadelphia from Black Panther harassment, don’t look for the feds to come down too hard on Harry and the boys.
Budget statutes and the resolutions they require are, of course, always more symbol than substance. As a real tool to curb spending and rein in the growth of government, the 1974 Budget Control Act has been an abysmal failure, serving only to throw the occasional wrench into the gears of unrestrained federal largesse. The Gramm-Rudman provisions of the late 1980s and the more recent Super Committee are but two of examples of Congress devising an artificial mechanism to compensate for its lack of human resolve. Truth be told, the 1974 Budget Act was created not to impose fiscal discipline on Congress but rather to disrespect then-President Richard Nixon, who impounded almost $12 billion of congressionally appropriated funds because he feared the excessive spending would fuel inflation. Arguably, the sorry history of federal budget legislation is much more about party politics than public policy.
Which brings us back to Harry Reid and the Democrat Senate. These days, even the most casual observer of our political process concedes that our system has been broken for some time, which probably explains the why Congress’ approval rating is 11%. That has trended up slightly in the past weeks — of course, they haven’t been in session. Indeed, it would appear that for most of the last two presidencies our government has thrashed violently back and forth between gridlock and enacting laws that have outraged a majority of the American people. (Insert the Patriot Act and Obamacare here.)
The only time in recent memory when our branches of government and the political parties that control them have achieved any sort of harmonic convergence was during the mid 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House and the leader of the newly minted Republican majority. Those four years produced consecutive balanced budgets that led to surpluses and the now universally admired Targeted Assistance for Needy Families law, which converted federal welfare benefits to state bloc grants underwriting job training and placement.
Go back and review the debate during that period between Republican and Democrats, and you will see that that our government was as divided and even as divisive as it is today. The difference: it never became dysfunctional. Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue actually produced results that found favor with a broad cross section of Americans. Hard to find such parallels in today’s political climate, unless you consider an unemployment rate which has inched down from 9.2% to 8.5% a success story.
The message should be apparent for card-carrying Republicans and for all those unaffiliated voters who still cling to the belief that there can be such a thing as “good government.” Capturing the White House is now and always will be a consummation devoutly to be wished. But if changing the direction of this country from the course Barack Obama appears to be plotting for us is our primary objective, then unseating Harry Reid as Senate leader and controlling both houses of Congress is equally important.
Recently Republican Senator Ron Johnson opined in the Wall Street Journal that his colleagues in both the House and Senate need to “develop a plan that can build public support for solutions.” Entitling his proposal “America’s Choice,” he encourages his fellow GOP lawmakers to introduce bills in the upcoming session of Congress which highlight the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. Examples would include pro-growth tax reform, pushing back the administration’s regulatory overreach, and replacing Obamacare with what he describes as “patient-centered, free-market reforms.”
All laudable ideas consistent with conservative values, but nothing more than an academic exercise as long as Republicans control only one house of Congress.
Consider for a moment what Sen. Johnson’s plan might look like had Republicans actually regained a majority of Senate seats in 2010. The ideas mentioned above might have been full-blown legislative proposals with which the president would either have to bargain, or veto and then explain why. I also think a Republican Congress would have spared us all the painful and futile melodrama of the budget supercommittee. In addition to being able to actually initiate legislation, Republican majorities would have controlled the chairmanships in both bodies, meaning much closer scrutiny of and accountability from officials like Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner, and Janet Napolitano. And we can only speculate how a completely Republican Congress might have influenced the president’s two appointments to the Supreme Court.
I am unrepentant in my desire to make Barack Obama a one-term president but unless we devote as much time, energy, and treasure to winning the Senate as we do to regaining the White House, Republicans, conservatives, indeed anyone disaffected by the Obama presidency, will be in for a bitter disappointment. One that may last much longer than 1000 days.