A Unifying Reform Agenda For Congress

A Unifying Reform Agenda For Congress

Republicans in Congress can unify their conference by showing the American people a bold agenda aimed at providing opportunity for all Americans, and favoritism to none.
Michael A. Needham and David M. McIntosh
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Republicans have not made much of the opportunity presented by unified control of Congress so far. Intransigence from Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) coupled with a lack of vision from House Republican leaders have led to stalemates and embarrassments, which have denied the American people the opportunity to see an attractive alternative to President Obama’s failed Progressive agenda. We suggest another path.

The narrative inside the beltway is that Speaker John Boehner has tried everything to unify his conference. Yet his central focus for the last several months has been avoiding conflict day-to-day rather than offering constructive ideas and a long-term vision.

Last week’s surrender on combating President Obama’s executive amnesty is just the latest example of Republicans avoiding bold stands at every available turn. The rare examples of positive legislation Republicans have championed would at best tinker at the margins of our greatest problems to relieve niche constituencies. Broad reforms are not yet on the agenda.

Address Concerns of Ordinary Americans, Not Corporate Lobbyists

For too many Americans, life is tough and getting tougher. Congress’s laser focus on corporate America’s priorities—Keystone XL authorization and medical device tax repeal—reinforces their sense that no one in Washington cares. President Obama’s policies have done little to address anxieties about the availability of well-paid jobs, the cost and quality of health care, the state of our schools and affordability of higher education, and the price of housing, food, and other goods.

There’s no lack of ideas in the House Republican conference to address the concerns of the Americans left behind by the Obama recovery.

But the failure of the president’s agenda is a consequence of progressives’ intellectual bankruptcy, not evidence we cannot solve our problems. Republicans can tackle these challenges head-on this Congress, and in so doing unite both their party and the country.

There’s no lack of ideas in the House Republican conference for leaders to pick from to address the concerns of the Americans left behind by the Obama recovery. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), for example, has introduced the RAISE Act, which would raise the wage ceiling union contracts have imposed on 8 million Americans. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) has an exciting agenda for housing and financial services reform. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has proposed the HERO Act, which would go a long way toward driving higher education innovation while curbing costs to students. And the congressional reconciliation process provides Congress with the opportunity to repeal Obamacare, then work in an orderly fashion to replace it with a patient-centered alternative.

Here’s How to Foster Unity in Congress

Conversations about reform will entail meaningful debate, as we saw last week with House leadership’s decision to pull the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But robust debate, in our view, will be a catalyst for agenda-setting rather than an obstacle by allowing all voices to be heard. With ideas like the A-PLUS Act to allow states to opt out of Department of Education mandates in the spotlight, conservatives now have an opportunity to make 2015 the year of real conservative education reform.

For all the talk of tactical disputes over must-pass legislation, the rancor on the Right today is as much a consequence of Republican leadership’s willingness to shepherd corporate welfare.

Rejecting the special-interest favoritism that divides Republicans will also foster unity. For all the talk of tactical disputes over must-pass legislation, the rancor on the Right today is as much a consequence of Republican leadership’s willingness to shepherd corporate welfare like agribusiness and flood insurance subsidies, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

In addition to generating needless division on the Right, this sort of government favoritism makes Americans cynical about our nation’s politics. A loud declaration that the days of special interest cronyism driving the agenda in Washington are over would serve both to unite a divided conference and also to increase the resonance of the opportunity agenda Republicans can offer this year.

Nothing would send this message more powerfully than a clear and unambiguous declaration from House Republican leadership that the Export-Import Bank’s days are numbered and a reauthorization of “Boeing’s Bank” is off the table. For years, Americans have been forced to tighten our belts. The Export-Import Bank, which has been called “free money for Wall Street,” is the obvious place for Washington to start.

The history of the last four years is not of a Republican majority trying to work with conservatives. Rather than having a seat at the table, conservatives have been forced to the sidelines and stripped of committee assignments by leaders who instead crafted bills to appease moderate members.

Let’s start fresh. House Republicans can unify their conference by showing the American people a bold agenda aimed at providing opportunity for all Americans, and favoritism to none. Working to advance this agenda would allow Republican leadership to focus all of our attention where it should be: the discredited and failing progressive policies that are undermining the core pillars of our great country.

Michael A. Needham is chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America. Former Rep. David M. McIntosh is president of the Club for Growth.

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