Republicans have shown that they can win elections, but can they govern? That is what they have to prove to voters who gave the GOP control of both houses with a 54-46 majority in the Senate and the largest majority in the House since 1929. Now that a Senate held by the Democrats no longer stands in the way of processing House bills, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell can quickly pass legislation that are party priorities including tax reform, border security, the Keystone pipeline, the reform of the Affordable Care Act.
Even if President Obama vetoes the legislation, Republicans will have shown that they can govern, which would be greatly welcome given that a recent Gallup poll shows just a 16 percent approval rating for Congress.
One would think that this will be easy, given the large Republican majority. But it won’t be: John Boehner has independent and willful members from the tea-party wing of the GOP who do not support his leadership. In fact, 25 voted against him, including five congressmen from Florida, such as Dan Webster and Rich Nugent, who were at the heart of the opposition. It may not be a tidy process if this small group hurts the party’s image moving toward the 2016 presidential primaries.
Meanwhile, the Senate is not filibuster proof, which means that McConnell has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to dust off his book on the art of legislation and compromise, he has to compromise with some brash colleagues, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who seems to borrow much from the 6th-century B.C. Chinese general, Sun Tzu, who is credited with writing The Art of War.
Democrats have their own challenges as they try to regain their footing after a devastating loss in November. Their party has been showing divisions over strategy, and President Obama has not been helpful. Democrats outside of the White House run the risk of becoming irrelevant. They can help the president maintain a veto, but Democrats are tired of the president not being a team player within his own party.
For his part, President Obama has already said he will veto a few pieces of legislation that have yet to be written. Maybe he does not mind saying “No” without having read the proposal first, but Democrats should be concerned about becoming the new party of No. It isn’t a winning strategy.
Expect Republicans, particularly in the Senate, to vigorously debate energy policy, including the Keystone pipeline, which has bipartisan support. They will strip rather than repeal some of the most damaging aspects of Obamacare. The Save American Workers Act will increase the work week from 30 to 40 hours; the medical device tax will likely be eliminated. These initiatives have bipartisan support in both houses. In addition, Republicans will pass legislation that favors employers who hire veterans. Who is going to say No to that?
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Boehner and McConnell is finding a smart strategy to challenge President Obama on his abuse of executive power while leading the nation forward. That smart strategy was not evident this week the House approved a budget for Homeland Security that also defunds provisions of Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. That was unwise. Twenty-five states have sued the federal government over that issue, and it is in the legal pipeline. Let the courts deal with it.
Dan Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, has it right: “While the president’s actions on immigration raise concerns, it is a mistake to legislatively block them without proposing a better solution. Both Republicans and Democrats share responsibility for a failure to accomplish such reform in the past, and both sides must come together on a solution that works for the country.”
Governing is not a tidy business. However, voters are demanding less political drama and more substantive legislation; that is the message behind the Republican landslide in the midterm elections.
Republicans need to remember that if they let these voters down, Democrats will have more than a fair chance of remaining in the White House for years to come.