Agenda: Key resolutions for the GOP in 2015

In less than two weeks, Republicans get their Christmas wish and control of both chambers of Congress. The consolidated control of Capitol Hill will change the dynamic in Washington, as Barack Obama will lose what Mitch McConnell called his “pocket veto” with Harry Reid’s leadership in the Senate. For the first time in his presidency, Obama will have to deal directly with his opposition if he wants to get anything accomplished — and will have to rely on vetoes much more to check the GOP.

This sets up a challenge for Republicans, and a chance to demonstrate that they are ready to govern. Voters gave them the majority in Congress despite no articulated agenda other than stopping Obama’s, but that opens up an opportunity for them to make their case. In my final 2014 column for The Fiscal Times, I outline how Republicans can exploit it and put Obama and Democrats on the defensive with five key resolutions for 2015. Here are a couple of those:

1. Return to regular-order budgeting. For the past several years, Congress has failed to produce a budget in the proper form. Thanks largely to Harry Reid’s insistence on blocking Senate budget proposals, the U.S. has lurched from crisis to crisis in artificial “cliffs,” continuing resolutions, and omnibus spending bills. Massive bills have to get moved within hours, allowing for little scrutiny and no transparency, after nonsensical attempts to push off regular spending decisions until after elections. Small wonder that Congressional approval ratings have plummeted over the same trajectory of fundamental dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

Restoring regular order will make a big impact on even those voters marginally engaged in national politics. The ability to produce a normal budget with separate appropriation bills in a manner that allows for public scrutiny will provide the highest level of contrast between the Reid and Mitch McConnell eras in the US Senate. …

3. Pass a border-security bill in answer to Obama’s executive action on immigration. Both McConnell and John Boehner will review their limited options for blocking Obama’s planned executive actions on immigration. They succeeded in getting a huge concession in the “CRomibus” debate with the 90-day funding for DHS, which will control those efforts. Obstruction isn’t their only option, though. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) will put a bill on the floor to address border security in a separate effort, all the more necessary because of the magnet effect of Obama’s proclamation last month.  Republicans need to pass it and send it off to Obama either before or concurrently with whatever funding mechanism they design for HHS in the rest of the year.

If they pass it alone, Obama will almost certainly veto it while demanding a comprehensive approach to immigration. However, voters clearly want a border security solution, and vetoing such a bill would be a disaster for Obama, especially in Border States and the interior West. Plus, while Obama proceeds with his executive action, Republicans can argue that the standalone bill is necessary to balance the impact of Obama’s policies.

The other resolutions are (2) Pass the Keystone Pipeline, (4) Tax reform, and (5) Use the Senate to engage on foreign policy. The column fleshes each of these out, but they are all familiar topics to Hot Air readers. All of them put Obama on defense, all except (5) produces real and popular legislation, and all will draw a clear contrast between GOP accomplishments aimed at improving the US and Democratic posturing and stagnation as the 2016 presidential primaries heat up.

Glenn Reynolds has a creative suggestion for the new Congress — initiating a third chamber called the House of Repeal to deal with intrusive legislation and regulation:

The accumulation of laws creates a drag on both prosperity and freedom. Jonathan Rauch calls the problem Demosclerosis, in his excellent book of the same name: Special interest laws build up kind of like arterial plaque, eventually choking off freedom. Economist Mancur Olson calls the same phenomenon “the web of special interests.” In his book The Rise and Decline of Nations, he suggests that this web will inevitably lead to economic and political stagnation, and can usually only be broken by some sort of catastrophic event, like a lost war or a revolution. Or we could just repeal some of the laws. …

So in a third house of Congress — let’s call it the House of Repeal — the only thing that the elected legislators would have the power to do would be to repeal laws, meaning that for them, all the votes, campaign contributions, media exposure and opportunities for hearings would revolve around paring back the federal behemoth. It’s an extension of James Madison’s principle (or, possibly, Alexander Hamilton’s) enunciated in Federalist No. 51 that, since politicians are always ambitious, in a free society “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

Though the details, as with all constitutional provisions, matter a lot, the key virtue of a House of Repeal goes beyond the details: The point of its existence would be to give someone in the federal government an incentive to give us less law rather than more. Right now, only the federal judiciary is free from incentives to create additional regulation (though not necessarily free from incentives to create additional legal complexity), but federal judges get no reward for striking laws down. There is no institutional incentive to do so. Yet it seems that things are much more likely to get done in our system if some institution benefits from the doing.

It’s a great idea, although unfortunately not one likely to get implemented in the next two years. Absent a constitutional convention, it’s also almost certainly not going to come to fruition at all. It would be difficult to imagine any Congress getting 2/3rds support for diluting its own strength, although the states would probably ratify it in a heartbeat — especially if it used the process repealed by the 17th Amendment of having state legislatures choose the members. Since the federal government expands its power mainly at the expense of the states, that would be a fine way to restore the original tension and check on Congress by the states that was a key feature of the US Senate.

This Congress has the power to accomplish the same kind of task through the Congressional Review Act, or at least to force Obama to endorse unpopular regulation. The CRA allows Congress to call votes on regulations issued by federal agencies and repeal them when desired; filibusters are not allowed in the Senate on CRA actions, either. James Inhofe has pledged to use the CRA in particular with the EPA, and other Republicans would no doubt have their own targets, perhaps especially with the FCC and its attempts to regulate the Internet. CRA actions have to be signed by the President, though, and Obama would be likely to veto any sent to him in clean bills. If they came as amendments to budgets, Obama might be forced to acquiesce on some while vetoing entire budget bills to protect other regulations.

Even if unsuccessful, it would force Obama to defend the regulatory state — and remind voters that another Democrat in the White House would do the same and keep expanding it as well. That’s a sixth resolution that Republicans should offer repeatedly in 2015.