Fresh off their historic turnaround in the midterm elections, Republicans are already under tremendous pressure to compromise with Democrats and President Obama. There have been the usual calls for GOP leaders to find common ground on policy issues like taxes, the deficit, and health care. Republicans would do well to ignore them all and double down on their 2010 election-year strategy.
In this past election, very few new Republican members won because of their personal ten-point plan or policy prescriptions. The strategy was fairly simple: oppose the massive overreach by Obama and the Democrats that led to a failed stimulus, permanent bailouts, Obamacare, increasing the national debt, out-of-control spending, and higher taxes. Voters promptly agreed and sent Republicans to Congress to reverse the country’s direction. As P.J. O’Rourke said in the waning weeks of the midterms, “This is not an election on November 2. This is a restraining order.” Executing that order should be Republicans’ top priority.
So-called pragmatists will worry that the GOP must compromise to get anything done. That is a misreading of what this election was about. The truth is the next two years are not really about what Republicans can accomplish, other than limiting the damage Obama and the Senate majority can do in the months they have left. Even if it means total gridlock from a legislative standpoint, it will prove the Republicans meant what they said in 2010 and will put them in great position to take back the Senate and the Oval Office in 2012.
The first and best opportunity to test Republican spines will be to extend all the Bush tax cuts. Democrats want to extend them only for those making less than $250,000 and are already trotting out the standard class warfare to push wobbly Republicans to concede. Republicans should hold firm even if it means not getting a vote before the lame-duck session ends. There couldn’t be a better first vote for all the GOP’s new members in the next Congress than to support tax cuts for all Americans.
Next, Republicans must ban earmarks. With all of the GOP leadership finally on board, not to mention President Obama, it should be a no-brainer to push this through and send a strong signal that they are serious about spending reductions. Any Republican who stands in the way will unnecessarily risk their political future and invite a serious primary challenge.
A third way to keep the pressure on is to attack the highly unpopular individual mandate in the new health care law. While there is little hope of repealing the entire bill, pushing to remove the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance will force Democrats, at least in part, to do what they refused to do in the midterms: defend Obamacare.
Finally, if Republicans are not talking about jobs, they are not talking to voters. They must have laser-like focus on measures that will help get companies hiring again. A “How many jobs will this bill create?” approach would be a good way to start any floor debate. Obama and the Democrats will try to talk about everything but the economy and unemployment. The GOP needs to keep their feet to the fire just as they did during the election and stay on message: jobs, jobs, jobs.
With such an historic victory, the temptation for the GOP to overreach may be too much — particularly in the House. It certainly proved irresistible for Obama and he and his party reaped the consequences. Republicans should take that lesson to heart. Just do only what they were sent there to do and make no compromises in doing it.
Brian Phillips is a veteran of House, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns and has worked in Congress. Most recently, he managed Sean Bielat’s campaign in Massachusetts.