Six tips for the 112th Congress

Tuesday’s election results signaled an historic shift in the Congress.  In some ways, the final picture of what the actual makeup of the 112th Congress are may remain hazy and unclear for several days after Nov 2 . 

Just a few short months ago, no one but maybe an optimistic NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions could have predicted such possible seismic shifts in the political makeup.  And I’ve heard more than a handful of Republican friends and colleagues mutter to me, “Now what do we do if the prognosticators are accurate?” 

Let’s begin with these six steps:

Govern, don’t goad.  It’s pretty simple, voters didn’t so much as vote Republicans in than they voted Democrats out.  They didn’t make John Boehner the Speaker of the House to simply goad and get even.  They voted for Republicans to govern, and to govern well.  That means not worrying about what Steny Hoyer or Henry Waxman says or does in committee, but simply bearing down on important legislation and getting the job done.  If Democrats stand in the way, then fine, make that case in November 2012.  Remember, this mess wasn’t created in four years (and Republicans certainly contributed to it during the early 2000s) and it will take far longer to clean it up.

Forget your enemy; build allies instead.  For the better part of the past 16 years, congressional Democrats and Republicans played a simple yet twisted game of binary politics – if the other side is losing, we must be winning.  Once they realized that equation, both sides sought to undo the other more so than to actually govern.  So for 2011, instead of trying to destroy their opponent, Republicans should instead focus on building a coalition of the willing.  Draw in moderates, Blue Dogs, anyone who is open-minded on the various issues the Congress will face.  If the polls from November 2nd showed one thing, it was that voters are tired of the bitterness.  Growing a majority in 2012 means growing your base of support with the electorate, and that means posting early successes no matter how the ayes and nays are counted. 

Scratch the “majority of the majority” rule.  This concept is clearly inside baseball tactics, but both sides have been practicing the “majority of the majority” rule for the past decade.  The basic idea is the Speaker will not move any bill to the House floor unless that measure can win with a Republican- or Democrat-only majority of votes.  Hastert practiced it.  Pelosi tried to perfect it.  Both led to many embarrassing moments in the chamber when the votes simply weren’t there because the other party was left out of the negotiations.  That’s not how the Founders intended.  And Speaker Boehner would do well to banish such tactics from his office for good.

Realize there is no permanent majority.  It’s axiomatic in Washington – politicians tend to lose quickly the things they hold on to so tightly.  Majorities are not meant to be protected, but rather used to effectuate change.  One thing is clear as the dust settles from last Tuesday – there is NO honeymoon for Republicans.  Anyone who believes the GOP can saunter into the majority, assess the landscape, and then gingerly begin to move legislation from a perch of confident deliberation wasn’t paying attention.  Republicans made it very clear what they wanted to do if they took control. 

There is no room nor patience for them to worry about term limits on chairmanships or dawdle on bills that may endanger some of their weaker freshmen. 

Republicans would do well to acknowledge early that they could easily lose their majority in two-to-four years.  Recognizing that reality doesn’t hasten its arrival.  The electorate is simply that volatile.  And the sooner that’s acknowledged, the freer the GOP will be to do the right thing.

What they choose to do with this awesome responsibility rests solely in their hands.  They should seize this moment and tackle the most pressing, intractable problems our country faces.  Not sheepishly move to issues that will not better this country in wholesale ways. Am I talking about “over-reaching”?  No.  Rather, they need to address the calamitous problems that have gone unfettered for far too long. 

Respect the minority.  Pretty novel, huh?  Possible?  You bet.  Why should Republicans respect the views of the minority by allowing them to offer amendments on the floor and in committee?  Because that’s what Republicans demanded for years, and it’s time now to lead by example.  Besides, Democrats won’t do the admirable thing and offer substantive policy alternatives.  Instead, you can bet they’ll offer amendments meant to embarrass the GOP and prop up a flailing president.  But at least Republicans can set the right tone, and show the American people who serves who.

Think locally.  Act nationally.  More important than anything else, Republicans in both chambers must think differently about the constituents, and country, they serve.  For far too long, politicians on both sides blocked entire measures, appointees and major initiatives for lame, parochial reasons.  We presently have no national nuclear waste disposal program because of one man, Harry Reid, even though Yucca Mountain has been deemed time and again as the single best repository for such spent fuel.   That’s not leadership, folks, and it’s certainly not in the interests of our country at large. 

For the love of Pete, can we please have a majority that puts the country’s interests ahead of a congressman’s interests?  Yes, members should “vote the district” first, but please don’t continue to fund pork projects we can’t afford with money we don’t have.

For too long, individual members and Senators looked after themselves first, and the country second.  We have reached a tipping point in this country where we can no longer afford such narrow-minded policymaking. 

It’s time to recall again this is the United States of America.