Friday, January 9, 2015

A New Congress: What should we expect?

United States Capitol
As I’m sure you are aware, the 114th Congress began on Tuesday. For the first time since 2006, Republicans have a majority in both the House and the Senate. This has given conservatives hope of achieving conservative goals that we have not been able to pass in the last 8 years. Although we do have a conservative Republican majority, we need to make sure that we have realistic expectations for the 114th Congress.

There are three factors that could inhibit the “New American Congress” as it has been called, from passing conservative bills. First, we still have a Democrat president in the White House; second, although there is a Republican majority in the Senate, we do not have a filibuster-proof majority; and third, the House Republican Conference tends to be anything but united.

President Obama
The first and most obvious of the issues is President Obama. The president has veto-power, so he can veto any conservative bill that Congress passes. We have seen this as the White House issued two veto threats within hours of the 114th Congress beginning. Now, on some issues, Congress may be able to force the president’s hand, but on others, they will need to work out a deal with the White House. So, for the next two years, congressional Republicans will not be able to get everything they want, however, they are in a much better negotiating position than we had the last four years.

Make Up of Senate
The second, and slightly less obvious issue is the size of the Republican majority in the Senate. Unlike the House of Representatives, which is a majority rules legislative body, the Senate has long established protections for the minority. Any one Senator can basically put a stop to the consideration of any bill.  If a Senator (or group of Senators) try to stop the consideration of a bill, it requires a 3/5ths majority of all members of the Senate (60 votes if there are no vacancies) to invoke a procedure called “Cloture.” This essentially ends debate on the measure and forces a vote. Because the Republicans only have 54 members in the Senate, they will need 6 Democrats to “cross the aisle” and vote with the majority to invoke Cloture. Therefore, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans will need to make concessions to Senate Democrats in order to pass legislation.

Make up of House
Finally, and I think the least obvious (in many cases even unknown) issue is that the House Republican Conference tends toward disunity. Over the last four years, in my opinion, Speaker John Boehner has had the most difficult job in Washington. Throughout American history, most Speakers have had the assurance that the majority party’s conference would support any legislative deals made with the White House and Senate. Boehner has not had that sort of unity. In both the 112th and 113th Congresses, Boehner has, at times, been forced to offer additional concessions so he could receive Democrat support to pass bills through the House. That is because many Tea Party House Republicans were unwilling to support any sort of bill that wasn’t perfect or did not include provisions that Senate Democrats could not support (such as a complete repeal of Obamacare). This significantly weakened Boehner’s ability to negotiate with the White House and Senate Democrats. If the House Republican Conference will stay unified throughout the 114th Congress, it can help strengthen the GOP’s negotiation power with the White House and Senate Democrats. However, if it follows the course of the last four years, our chance to pass good, conservative legislation significantly drops.

Speaker of the House
The 114th Congress has the potential to achieve many conservative goals, and to help get America back on the right path. However, we conservatives need to realize that due to current political realities, we will not be able to get everything we want over the next two years. It is critically important that we support and encourage congressional Republicans to get as much as they can while at the negotiation table, but also that we don’t tear them apart because they compromise with the president. Politics is not a short game, and there are times we need to take a short term hit in favor of long term benefits. If we truly want to advance conservative principles, we need to have a long term strategy, and not just look for quick fix bills.

Post by Glenn Bertsch 
Photo credits: All photos from Wikimedia Commons

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