To govern or not to govern, that is the question

Ramesh Ponnuru offers an answer to a question which nobody but the media seems to be all that interested in. Now that the GOP has taken control of both chambers and will maintain it through the next presidential election, what should they do? The answer may be… nothing.

Now that Republicans are in control of both chambers of Congress, what should they do?

“Prove they can govern,” says a CNN headline. “Show they can govern,” suggests the New York Times. “Prove that we can govern with maturity,” offers Senator Cory Gardner.

Different people mean different things by that phrase. Some of them merely mean that Republicans, having control of Congress, should avoid doing things that make the party look immature, irresponsible or incompetent. That’s surely true, and an important contribution that congressional Republicans can make to their party’s future success.

Others, though, appear to mean that Republicans have to show that they can get a lot of their bills into law. If that’s the test, I can tell you the results already: The Republican Party can’t govern the country during the next two years. Modern America can’t be governed from Capitol Hill because the executive branch has too much power.

In general, Ramesh has a point (as he usually does) and I’m not sure we’re even working at crossed purposes here. The role of the Executive branch has been metastasizing at a steady pace for generations, and rather than being a co-equal branch they now act as a barrier to any progress legislatively. Of course, this is more than just a function of power grabs and a series of favorable decisions by the courts. The increasingly divisive nature of the two party system and the comparatively even split ideologically among the electorate have made super-majorities capable of overriding a veto nearly mythical in the modern era.

With that in mind, there is very little which the GOP controlled Congress can pass which will garner a signature from the President and even less chance that they can bend him to their will, having no carrot to offer as an alternative to the stick. If we truly want to see “progress” as defined by major new legislation being passed, we’ll need to see one party or the other controlling both chambers and the White House. The question of whether or not we actually do want such progress can be left for another day.

But, as we have covered here repeatedly, that doesn’t mean that the GOP shouldn’t pass bills. Even if they don’t make it into law, they will define the agenda which people can expect from them if and when they are rewarded with control of the Oval Office in the future. I get the sense that this is also what Ramesh is driving at. The question is what metric the voters will use to define “accomplishments” over the next two years.