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A GOP-Controlled Senate: Here's What It Should Do

A GOP-Controlled Senate: Here's What It Should Do

By Reed Galen - August 14, 2014

At the end of the classic campaign movie "The Candidate," Robert Redford's character, having just won his U.S. Senate race, looks at his campaign manager and asks, "What do we do now?"

Earlier this week, with the ignominious departure of Sen. John Walsh from the Montana Senate contest, the Republican Party is now even better positioned to retake Congress’ upper chamber, with three of the six seats targeted now being moved by various prognosticators into the “Likely Republican” column.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is that the incoming Republicans won’t look as good as Robert Redford. With few exceptions, they won’t be as attractive as former Sen. John Tunney, the California Democrat “The Candidate” was based on. So they won’t be able to get away with deciding after they take control of Congress what they want to do with this newfound authority. They need to think about that now.

With momentum on their side, GOP leaders need to use the 10 weeks between now and Election Day to lay out their governing philosophy and legislative priorities. We certainly shouldn’t expect President Obama, who will then be squarely on the second-term off-ramp, to provide any new ideas.

Here are few things Republicans might consider pledging to do if they retake the upper chamber in November:

1. Bring back the budget process. Government by the process known as “continuing resolution” isn’t governing at all. It’s time we Republicans actually put our fiscally conservative values to work, make some value-based decisions, and send a feasible budget to the White House.

2. Devise and pass immigration reform. It need not be the “comprehensive” bill liberals are calling for. Republicans probably can’t reconcile all their differences on this issue, but Democrats are increasingly hemmed in by their unwillingness or inability to be for anything short of complete amnesty. Let’s start with the easy stuff: Let the high-tech sector keep the engineers it needs and allow America’s farmers some certainty in their workforces.

3. Reform the tax code. In particular, fix once and for all—or, better yet, get rid of—the alternative minimum tax. Find new ways to allow small business owners and sole proprietors to keep more of their money. Reduce corporate income taxes in exchange for a commitment from corporate America that they will repatriate the hundreds of billions in cash they hold overseas.

4. Fix the broken parts of Obamacare. There is plenty to dislike about the president’s signature domestic achievement, but the sun will come up in the West before Obama signs anything that repeals it.

5. Lead on education. According to local school districts, there are dozens of conflicting and expensive regulations handed down by the federal Department of Education. Avoid the silly bromide of demolishing the agency (despite its heinous architecture), and pass something that will actually assist in returning local control to states and localities. Education Secretary Arne Duncan may actually be an ally on this, as he’s shown a willingness to take on the education establishment.

6. Make a pledge that legislation not related to getting these things accomplished will be tabled until such time as the country is back on firm economic footing.

The American people have long given up on lofty speeches and saccharine promises. We have many problems to solve and a Republican-controlled Congress should take the lead in identifying, and enacting, solutions. Leave it to the president to decide whether he wants his legacy to be one of blind ideology, or putting his ego aside to get work done, even if it’s not perfect.

Going forward with such an agenda will also hopefully begin to solve Republicans’ larger electoral issues. We will not win everything we want in these fights – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t join the battle.

Americans have long been of two minds when it comes to their government in Washington.  They detest it, but want it to do something. We cannot fall prey to the factions within our party whose only suggestion is to burn the house down. There is no question we live in a claptrap old manse on a shaky foundation, but let’s start with some renovations before deciding to scrap it completely. Maybe if we fix it up a bit, we’ll decide that the old homestead is worth keeping after all.

Reed Galen is a political strategist in California. He was John McCain's deputy campaign manager until July 2007.

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