GOP's Groundhog Day

The 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, tells the story of a lovelorn reporter sent to cover Groundhog Day festivities. Something happens to him and he keeps repeating the day until he gets things right and becomes a better person.

Last week, at a lumber company in Virginia, it felt a little like Groundhog Day, the movie. House Republicans led by Rep. John Boehner (R.-Ohio), the presumptive speaker of the House if Republicans take over, flanked by those who would be speaker if Boehner stumbles, rolled out the “Pledge to America.”

This was their generation’s version of the “Contract with America.” At first glance, it is a little wordy. I was looking for big bullet points that everyone could buy into. It’s not a philosophical document; it’s a document for right now.

The overwhelming question voters want answered is, “If we (the voters) give you the power back, will you do what you’ve promised?”

The Republicans were pretty good at keeping their promises until 9/11/2001. Then we ushered in the age of Big Government Republicanism with increased spending on wars without appropriate cuts in discretionary spending. 

Republicans passed the wrong kind of campaign finance reform, transportation bills, agriculture subsidies and a prescription drug plan that was just another phrase for entitlement. They did pass tax cuts which, when fully implemented in 2003, increased revenue each year until 2009, and we spent all of it and then some instead of continuing the fiscal responsibility of 1995 to 2001.

In 2006, independents voted with Democrats and took the Republican majority away. Republicans compounded their losses with the elections of 2008 and gave Democrats a solid governing majority.

The issue in those elections was about spending, but instead of getting the message from voters to spend less, the end of the Bush Administration and all of the Obama Administration has been about spending more than we have.

This recession was caused by people and institutions playing with money they didn’t have and for any administration to interpret that as a need to spend more to offset it deserves to be voted out. The 2006 Republicans deserved to be voted out and the 2010 Democrats deserve the same.

So that brings us back full circle to “The Pledge.” John Boehner says this is a document that is about today and should be implemented now. It’s not a social document and it’s not about entitlements. It’s what has to happen now so we can grow out of the anemic economy. That shows one lesson has been learned. In a bad economy, the people don’t care about what’s going to happen ten years down the road; they just care about working in a job today.

At the same time, President Obama is rolling out more spending plans for a failed education system as well as trying to discredit the GOP on the campaign trail. This takes gumption as he and Congress is leaving town without a budget, without a decision on extending the Bush tax cuts and dealing with spending today. Obama is like the lead character in the musical, “Annie,” always looking to tomorrow, instead of dealing with today’s issues.

Will “The Pledge” do its job? We’ll know in five weeks. Democrats had 40 years to make their case when all the news came from the networks. Republicans got 12 years to do the same in the age of 24-hour cable news, talk radio and Internet. I have said since 2006, with the speed of new communications, the Democrats would have at most six years to prove they could keep their promises and then in the age of information, they’d be thrown out. Looks like they will get four years to make their case and they haven’t made it. The new majority in the House will get one try. If they don’t come out of the box doing what they promised, they will have a short reign.

Boehner talks about a different way of doing business. He says that a few people have determined the direction of the House in years past.  He says he wants to change that and you can bet your bottom dollar new members of Congress are going to want their place at the table. This is not going to be a freshman class that wants to wait their turn.

The only way for “The Pledge” to fulfill the promise of a lesson learned with the existing members of the House who survive November 2 is for it to be a different way forward. The old ways will not work. And while we are presuming the John Boehner will be the speaker if Republicans win back the house, there are no guarantees. If the win is not big enough, Boehner may have some challengers in his ranks.

As Boehner said on Sunday, “The American people want us to work together to meet the needs they sent us here to meet. A smaller, more efficient government that is transparent.”
I am willing to give them a chance for now, but I will be one of those calling for a new majority, if the class of 2010 doesn’t get down to business. And I don’t mean business as usual. I’ve never been a loyalist, and I’m in no mood to start now.

Getting to Groundhog Day will be a challenge. The headiness of the campaign trail and the level of the win will be known by then. Let’s hope it won’t be a repeat of the last two changes of power in the House.