What Conservatives Gain From a Republican Majority

Republicans have now been in charge in the Senate for 17 months – 17 months that have been simultaneously rewarding and frustrating.  Rewarding, because the Senate is functional now in a way that it wasn’t under the Democrat majority.  And frustrating, because there are a number of conservative priorities that we haven’t been able to push through because of Democrat opposition in the Senate and from the White House.

Americans, understandably, are looking for accomplishments.  And being in the majority has allowed us to make real progress on some issues where we’ve managed to convince Democrats and the president to get on board – like increased sanctions on North Korea and an education reform bill that returns power to states and local school boards.

The fact of the matter is, though, as long as we lack 60 Republican votes in the Senate and a partner in the White House willing to work with us, we are going to be limited in what we can achieve.  But that doesn’t mean having a Republican majority in the Senate is useless.  Far from it.

We may not be able to accomplish everything we want to right now, but the Republican-led Senate has been able to make sure that important bills at least get a vote.  Take the pro-life bills we considered last year – the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.  These bills would never have seen the light of day in the Democrat-led Senate.  Ultimately, these bills didn’t become law, but that doesn’t mean the debates on these bills were pointless.

Another important thing we accomplished this year was passing legislation in both the House and the Senate to repeal Obamacare.  Unfortunately, as long as President Obama is in office, we’re not going to be able to get a repeal signed into law.  But by sending a repeal bill to the president, the Republican-led Congress showed that once we have a partner in the White House, we can get rid of this failed legislation and replace it with real reform. 

Two other bills that would not have received a vote in a Democrat-led Senate are the measures we passed to prevent the Obama EPA from regulating ponds and ditches on private property and imposing a national energy tax on coal-fired power plants.  While the president ultimately vetoed these bills, the debates we had drew attention to the burdens these regulations will place on ordinary Americans. 

Another important advantage of a Republican-led Senate became very clear this winter, and that’s the ability to prevent President Obama from dramatically shifting the Supreme Court’s direction with a lifetime appointment while Americans are in the process of selecting our next president.  The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia left us with an opening on the Supreme Court that President Obama would like to fill with a judge who will embrace the president’s philosophy that the priorities of the far left always trump the rule of law.

Needless to say, a third Obama Supreme Court justice could fundamentally realign the direction of the court for a generation to come.  And right now, there is only one thing standing between our country and that scenario: the Republican-led Senate.  Had Republicans not gained the Senate majority in 2014, it is likely that a third Obama nominee would already be on the bench. 

There’s no question that there’s a lot more to be done to undo the damage wrought by the Obama administration.  But the Republican-led Senate has made a start.  We’ve passed important legislation, and while not all of our bills were signed into law, we pushed the needle in our direction by drawing attention to these issues. 

I hope next year we’ll have a president willing to work with us.  But regardless, the Republican-led Senate will continue to make sure that conservative priorities get debated and that the Senate functions in a way that benefits the American people. 

John Thune is a United States senator representing South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.