How the GOP Can Repeat 1994, Thanks to Harry Reid
Harry Reid's ham-fisted action to curb the filibuster of presidential appointment creates an enormous political opportunity for Republicans in 2014. As more than one pundit has noted, ending the filibuster for nominations means that a Senate Republican majority can end the filibuster for legislation as well, and Reid has removed the political cover for Democrats who would have used the filibuster to block Republican initiatives.
What we have today bears remarkable similarities to the Republican tidal wave twenty years ago, in 1994. Newt Gingrich and other House Republicans tested with polling data the most telling weaknesses of Democrats on policy issues, and from that, they produced the "Contract With America."
The Contract was emphatically not a promise that Republicans would be able to pass into law (or into constitutional amendment) the ten items on the list. What Gingrich rather promised was that if Republicans ran the House of Representatives, they would bring each of the ten items up for a vote in the House within the first 100 days of the Congress. House Republicans did everything promised, and did it ahead of schedule.
Until 1994, House Democrat leadership provided members of their caucus with cover by simply not bringing politically popular conservative measures before the House for a vote. Bills that the Democrat leadership did not want members to have to vote on were simply dumped into the Rules Committee or never heard in the committee assigned the bill.
In the Senate, any party that had at least forty-one stalwart votes could prevent a measure from coming before the Senate, and, as in the House, the party that controlled the Senate and its committees could also prevent any bill from being voted on by the Senate. Reid has changed that for good. If Republicans gain six seats in the Senate, then they can amend the rule on cloture for legislation, and the new Republican leadership can call up any bill for a roll call vote to nail each senator's hide on a clear record.
Because it is highly likely that Republicans will have an even larger House majority after 2014, this means that something like a Contract With America, only this time proposed by Senate Republicans, can tell America that within 100 days of taking power, the new Republican Senate leadership will call up for vote a number of items, and the House can promise to swiftly pass the bills and send these to the Senate well before that date.
What items should be in the new Contract? Each should be very popular and very easy to understand. Repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a bill that allows people to keep their own health insurance plan is one thought. Allowing interstate competition for health insurance is another idea. Enacting tort reform for medical lawsuits -- or maybe simply taxing all contingent fees above $1,000,0000 at a 95% tax rate? -- is another idea. Why not put into law that any health care plan for ordinary Americans must be the health care plan for all members of the federal government?
Senate Republicans, when proclaiming their Contract, and promising that each item will come up for an up-or-down vote within 100 days of taking power, can also put Harry Reid in trouble right now. They can challenge him to do today what Republicans promise to do when they take power. They can ask Senate Democrats in red states facing voters in 2014 to support their efforts to bring these items up now -- confident that Reid and Senate Democrats will never allow such a vote while they have power.
The problems for Democrats will get much worse in January 2015. Because of what Reid has done with the filibuster, the House can quickly pass those ten bills, and the Senate majority can then compel all Senate members to vote "Yea" or "Nay" on these ten items. Obama will, of course, veto all the measures, and then Democrats in both houses of Congress will have to go on record as voting to override Obama (and so defying their president and party leader), or else voting to support Obama's veto. These Democrats will have no good choices at all.
Republicans will be able to address each issue Americans care about, and no filibuster will be able to prevent them from putting each Democrat in Congress on record. Obama's vetoes will make him increasingly look like a hapless president whose only approach to the problems our nation faces is to veto bills sent to him by Congress.
That means that in 2016, Democrats will be on the defensive, with members of Congress in both houses trying to explain to voters why they supported Obama. And it will allow Republicans to make a compelling case as to why American needs a president who will sign reforms passed by a Republican Congress -- and reforms wanted by the American people.