Republicans took control of Congress this week with welcome promises to make goverment productive once again. Their offer to work with the White House whenever they can seems sincere, but it’s off to a dubious start.
If GOP leaders are serious when they say they want to preside over an effective Congress, they would not lead off with an effort to pass the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project. Not because the project is a terrible idea — reasonable people can disagree about its merits — but rather because Congress is unlikely to override President Obama’s promised veto if the bill reaches his desk, and they know it.
Showcasing an issue that only hands Mr. Obama a veto likely to be upheld is no way to set a new bipartisan tone in Washington that Republicans claim to want. Mr. Obama might get the blame for the ensuing impasse, at least by Republicans, but this is no way to get off to a fresh start. Another stale political exercise would only weaken the prospect for future deal-making between the parties.
Republicans would also be unwise to pursue another effort to overturn Obamacare. Beating that dead horse casts the new Congress in the mold of its unproductive and quarrelsome predecessor, which engaged in a two-year psychodrama that produced more than 50 votes in the House to overturn the Affordable Care Act — to no effect. They’d be better off trying to improve this far-from-perfect government program instead of engaging in a futile rollback exercise. But they’re apparently going through with it to appease the more extreme members of their caucus.
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If they can manage to stop fighting losing battles, however, Republicans and Mr. Obama can actually get a lot of things done together. An excellent place to begin would be a bipartisan effort to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, which provides the revenue stream dedicated to transportation repair and capital improvements. The fund, which is facing a $160-billion deficit over the next 10 years, provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of American workers.
Congress approved a temporary fix last summer, but a permanent solution requires raising the gasoline tax to put the fund on stable footing. That proposal has fallen victim to political ideology. Because it, you know, raises taxes. But there’s a glimmer of hope, as some of the GOP’s more thoughtful leaders in Congress see a chance to act on a bipartisan basis.
“If something like this is going to be done, now is the time to do it,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said recently, pointing to the dramatic fall of gasoline prices. He and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have a plan to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and put the trust fund on the road to permanent stability.
There are a host of other issues where Republicans can likewise seize the initiative. That includes trade, improving cybersecurity and reforming the byzantine tax code. Giving a fair hearing and early vote to Mr. Obama’s choices to head the Justice and Defense departments would also signal an earnest desire by Republicans to govern rather than play politics.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has a strong hand to play in the House, given a historically large Republican majority. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is eager to show that his party can govern. But if they can’t fix some of the country’s basic problems — politically sensitive issues like immigration, for example — the party will lose the confidence of voters and may well see their majority evaporate in the next election.