Judging from polls, it now seems probable that Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives this November. They may even take over the Senate. The greatest benefit of this would be ending uncertainty over how far President Obama will be able to go in turning America into a European-style welfare state.
America would be far from out of the woods with the economic destruction wrought by a massive government and an increasingly controlled economy that discourages hard work and innovation. But the foot would be off the accelerator on the road to serfdom.
But then what? Republicans in control of one or both houses of Congress will face three major challenges: demonstrating progress on a yet-to-be-defined agenda, convincing voters they have recovered from the period when they spent lavishly and governed like liberals, and paving the way for a conservative president in 2012—the first since Ronald Reagan.
This is different from the last period of GOP ascendancy in 1994, when the party took both houses of Congress. Then, Newt Gingrich helped usher in a massive class of reformist freshmen who had rallied around the Contract With America. The next step was obvious: pass the provisions of the Contract.
This year, there is no such guiding document.
The GOP should look to the successes of the Gingrich congressional period as an example of how to advance a positive agenda when they do not control the White House. They should also take a page from former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), who helped to get a president elected from his party by forcing a string of unpopular vetoes from then-President George H.W. Bush.
Such an agenda could consist of these ten elements:
1. Repeal and Smother Obamacare. Shortly after former-Speaker Pelosi turns over the gavel to Speaker Boehner, the House’s first piece of legislation, HR-1, should be a single-sentence law repealing Obamacare.
If the repeal act passed the Senate, it would surely be vetoed by President Obama. But the signal that the new Congress opposes government-run health care would help restore Republicans’ credibility and spur economic recovery.
Later, Congress could refuse to appropriate money required for federal agencies to implement Obamacare, buying time to offer a Republican alternative that empowers individuals, not bureaucracies.
2. Seek Immediate Savings. The current Congress wasted $862 billion on liberal-Keynesian “stimulus” spending that proved good for little other than again disproving liberal-Keynesian economics. The new Congress should identify government programs costing at least the same amount and repeal them permanently.
3. Enact a Balanced and Limited Budget Amendment. Congress clearly cannot be trusted to spend only what it takes from the people. A constitutional amendment should remove its the authority to spend more, and limit spending increases to inflation and population growth.
4. Stop Pending Tax Hikes. Tax increases kill jobs. Counterintuitively, they can also fail to reduce deficits. The massive Obama tax hikes are set to kick in on December 31. Congress should restore the current tax levels when it convenes on January 4.
5. Enforce Immigration Laws. Arizona’s illegal immigrant law is a fair, common-sense approach to dealing with the consequences of Washington’s bipartisan failure to secure the border and enforce the law.
Congress should follow Arizona’s lead and make it easy for local police across America to help detect and deport illegal immigrants caught committing other offenses. Securing the border once and for all can pave the way to a broader national discussion on immigration.
6. Defend Democracy Against Liberal Judges. Congress alone was given the sole authority to appropriate funds as a check against the other branches of government. It should once again use this to check the Judicial Branch. Congress should abolish or refuse to fund courts like the one that suspended the Arizona immigration law and any other court that similarly attempts to legislate from the bench. The leftwing 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco should be abolished or defunded.
7. Create a Citizen Congress. Congress should pass constitutional amendments enacting term limits, providing for the recall of senators by their constituents, and outlawing gerrymandering of congressional districts. Congress should look to the success of big states like Texas and Georgia and small states like Wyoming that have legislatures that meet for limited periods to do serious work. This makes for better government than legislatures like those in California and New York that meet almost continuously and legislate too much.
8. Seriously Consider the Flat Tax. Congress’s main method of intruding into the lives of Americans and controlling more and more of the economy is a complicated tax code. A flat income tax for all is an appealing alternative. An interim step could be offering Americans the choice to opt out of the current tax code if they wanted to pay a simple, flat tax. The new Congress should send this plan to President Obama for a highly unpopular veto.
9. Limit Union Power. Politicians of both parties love to talk about positioning America for the 21st century. They could actually do so by revising labor laws that are stuck in the 1930s and aid special interests while harming the middle class. Repealing the pro-union Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which inflates the cost of public works projects and is one reason Americans spend so much time in traffic jams, would be a good start.
New federal laws should help bring the increasingly extravagant pensions and benefits of unionized public employees in line with those of the Americans they serve.
10. Defend America. It is perverse that in a world becoming more dangerous, the only cuts to government spending are occurring at the Pentagon. We need to rebuild the Navy and Air Force, field comprehensive missile defenses, and get serious about threats from Iran, Islamists and China.
Foreign policy has mainly been a liability for Republicans since the Iraq insurgency. Despite this, fresh blood on Capitol Hill should get involved and resist the corrupt foreign policy establishment in Washington and a White House inclined to apologize for America.
President Obama will of course resist and veto most of these actions if they make it to his desk. But assuming he has not given up on the idea of being reelected, he might acquiesce to some reforms. In the same way, Newt Gingrich was able to get Bill Clinton to sign welfare reform, capital gains tax cuts, and a tax credit for children. But even a steady stream of vetoes denying Americans the type and size of government they want will help pave the way for conservative success in 2012, and the chance of sustained American renewal.
Christian Whiton was an official in George W. Bush administration. He is a frequent contributor to Fox Forum.
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Christian Whiton is the president of the Hamilton Foundation. He was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration and a policy advisor on the Giuliani and Gingrich presidential campaigns. He is author of "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War" (Potomac Books 2013).