The Republicans have no clear agenda. They could win control of Congress anyway.
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WASHINGTON — Republicans are heading for congressional majorities in both chambers as dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden’s agenda grows and the GOP dreams of a 2010-style annihilation of the Democratic Party.
What will they do if they get there? Good. Ummm. It depends. They are not completely sure. They might have something for you soon.
Asked last week what’s on the Republicans’ agenda if they regain control of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flatly told reporters, “It’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we get it back.
It’s a break with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who plans to roll out a program and told the right-wing website Breitbart News, “I don’t think majorities are data, I think they are deserved. I think you should also be very honest with the American public about what you would do with that majority.
Since the rise of Donald Trump, sadly refractory to details, the Republicans have moved further and further away from their self-proclaimed role as the “party of ideas”. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s ambitious plans to drastically cut taxes and the social safety net have been replaced by Kevin McCarthy’s loyalty to Trump and his relentless attacks on Democrats as socialists .
Democrats hope the GOP will pay an electoral price for the lack of clear plans to address the country’s myriad problems, from ongoing inflation to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Think about it. What are Republicans for? What are they for?” Biden asked last week during a press conference in which he pushed back against Republican efforts to obstruct his agenda.
But the evidence points to the possibility that political avoidance by Republicans may actually help them as they strive to clear the relatively low barrier needed to take control of both houses of Congress in 2022, a margin of just five seats. in the House and one seat in the Senate.
Biden’s low approval rating combined with the age-old historical tendency of ruling parties to suffer in midterm elections means that GOP success is close to a lock, barring a major shift in government. political environment.
The lack of a clear agenda even cost Republicans a top rookie for a Senate race. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said The Washington Examiner recently that he was “bothered” that GOP senators he spoke with while considering running for Sen. Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) this year were unable to identify their political objectives if they regain a majority in November. The plan, the governor said, only appeared to involve filibustering Biden until 2024 and a Republican could be inducted into the White House.
“They were all, for the most part, happy with the speed at which they were doing nothing. It was very clear that we just had to hold the line for two years. OK, so I’m just gonna be a roadblock for two years. That’s not what I do,” Sununu told the Examiner.
Senate Republicans spent their first year in a minority under Biden doing just that. And it’s proven to be an effective political strategy, at least when it comes to Biden’s declining polls and growing frustration within his party with the state of his presidency.
McConnell’s big gamble — backing Biden’s infrastructure overhaul, effectively allowing him to pass while blocking the bulk of his national legislative agenda, the Build Back Better Act — has so far paid off. Progressives who called for both the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act to move together, ensuring they both become law, have been pushed back. Build Back Better has now stalled thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), and it’s clear Democrats will have to settle for something far less ambitious.
Over the past year, Republican messaging has focused on attacking Biden on a number of issues, including pandemic-related supply chain issues, the lack of COVID-19 testing, the rising inflation and the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border. GOP lawmakers have spoken out against many of the social safety net programs proposed by Democrats in their Build Back Better agenda, such as affordable child care, paid family leave and monthly checks for parents. But they haven’t come up with many of their own policies to address these issues.
Republicans have also fought mask requirements and vaccination mandates while accusing Biden of failing to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control as he promised. They unanimously opposed relief programs, such as stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance.
In the eyes of Republicans, Biden’s plummeting approval ratings — including dismal results among Democratic-leaning groups like Latinos and young voters — and the ongoing pandemic unrest in the country give them little reason to hold one’s head.
“They left a blank canvas that is filled with the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world.”
– Jesse Ferguson, Democratic strategist
“Stopping the current train is all voters are looking for,” said a GOP strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the party’s strategy. The strategist noted that many suburban voters who backed Democrats in 2018 and 2020 previously leaned Republican. “They just need permission to vote Republican, and the environment gives them everything they need.”
Earlier this month, for example, a group of Republican senators introduced a bill to tackle rising inflation, which is eating away at workers’ incomes. The legislation would ban the passage of all future bills “that would raise inflation until the year-over-year inflation rate falls below 4.5%.” Essentially, their response on inflation is to do nothing and wait.
Jesse Ferguson, Democratic strategist and former senior Democratic congressional official Campaign Committee, predicted that the GOP’s relative silence on key issues would come back to bite them by allowing the most extreme members of their party to define republicanism.
“They left a blank canvas that is filled with the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world,” Ferguson said. He noted that independent voters might not be totally sold on the Democratic agenda, “but when they look at the GOP, they see inmates running the asylum.”
Yet parties that are not in power can gain medium-term benefits by remaining ideologically vague. The focus and blame will always remain with the president, and avoiding a specific program allows both ideological diehards and soft voters to imagine the party is heading in their preferred political direction.
The GOP has, however, signaled some priorities if it were to win back the Senate. Earlier this month, amid a procedural tussle with Democrats over voting rights and filibuster, McConnell threatened to vote on a series of GOP bills to make Democrats think twice. times before eliminating the filibuster. (The bet fell through when Democrats called his bluff and agreed to vote on the legislation if McConnell gave in on the franchise.)
The bills McConnell cited included some longstanding GOP goals, such as banning fracking, cracking down on sanctuary cities, weakening unions, and incentivizing schools to offer full-time education. during the pandemic. But passing such legislation would require bipartisan support ― 60 votes ― with the filibuster still going strong. It’s also unclear whether Republicans could muster all of their membership in support of the measures.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, architect of the 1994 “Contract with America” Republican political slate who advised House Republicans on their bid to take over the House this year, has suggested an idea for the party if they return to power: make their 2017 tax cuts permanent. Many tax-cutting provisions in the law, particularly the income tax cuts, are due to expire in 2025 (the corporate tax cuts, on the other hand, have been made permanent).
It is possible that Congress will act anyway to extend personal income tax cuts in one form or another. Democrats saw the deadline as an opportunity to achieve their own fiscal policy goals by striking a deal with Republicans on an extension.
McCarthy and Gingrich are working together on the House Republicans’ policy document – although Breitbart’s interview indicates that McCarthy has far more prepared promises than he does plans. While he specifically mentions the proposal for a “parents’ bill of rights,” McCarthy mostly ticks off a list of problems without providing solutions.
“We’re going to secure the border,” McCarthy said. “We will stop inflation and rampant spending.”
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