A Senate Contract With America
Twenty years ago, 300 House Republican candidates stunned Democrats with its Contract With America. This brief, clear document committed those who signed on to do several specific things if voters gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, a body that Democrats had controlled for the prior four decades.
Eight of the promises in the Contract With America were internal changes in the operation of the House of Representatives, and the House fulfilled them. The other part of this document promised to bring to floor votes within 100 days ten substantive bills that the Democrat leadership of the House had kept bottled up, protecting their members from having to vote on these measures. This promise, too, was scrupulously honored.
No document in modern American political history was kept as completely as the Contract With America. Conservatives today who whine that Gingrich was not able to enact these ten bills into law ignore the explicit purpose of the Contract With America, which was to end the tyranny of House Democrat leaders who protected their members by keeping these measures from floor votes. Gingrich and House Republicans over-performed on their promises: all of the eight reforms that House Democrats had bottled up for decades passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, and all of the ten substantive bills passed (most with significant Democrat support).
Senate Republicans in 2014 ought to do what House Republicans did years ago: present to America another Contract With America. This was impossible in 1994, because Senate rules required cloture to vote. In 2014, because of the machinations of Harry Reid, who effectively ended the filibuster, Senate Republicans can promise that if they control the Senate, any measure in this new Contract With America will come up for a floor vote in the Senate.
What sorts of substantive bills might be guaranteed for a floor vote in this new Contract With America? How about a vote to allow the Keystone Pipeline, something overwhelmingly popular with the American people? How about allowing veterans to have a voucher for health care in the private sector instead of using the disgraceful Veterans Administration? Or why not repeal Obamacare except for those few items that Americans want, like insurance for pre-existing conditions, keeping adult children on insurance until age 26, and so on? Why not allow health insurance providers to operate across state lines, a conservative idea to reduce costs that has not been acted on by the Senate?
In the wake of the appalling behavior by the Veterans Administration and IRS, how about legislatively waiving sovereign immunity from civil liability for any federal employee who tries to hide information from Congress or exerts pressure on other employees to hide misconduct or incompetence? Why not waive federal employee civil immunity for any IRS employee who uses his office for political objectives?
It would not be hard to come up with ten wildly popular reforms that languish now in the House of Representatives because the Senate refuses to even allow its members to vote on these measures. What if every Republican candidate for the Senate this fall and every sitting Republican in that body today promised that if the American people handed them control of the Senate in 2014, all of them together would bring all of these measures before the Senate for a vote within the first 100 days of the new Congress?
How will Democrats defending their Senate seats this November respond? Supporting Reid in stifling floor votes on these popular measures is indefensible, yet Senate Democrats would have to do that.
Could this Senate Republican Contract With America swing enough Senate elections to give Republicans control of the Senate? Yes, and probably with several seats to spare. House Republicans could also join in this document – all of these measures would pass the House and the Senate easily.
The consequence of a Republican Congress anchored to a clear promise to bring ten important bills up for a fast vote in 2015 would make Obama the lamest of lame ducks, but for Democrats it would be much worse. Having won both Houses of Congress with this Contract With America, Congressional Republicans could rightly claim a new mandate for action from the American people. Obama would surely veto all these bills, but if Republicans do not water them down (and that they must not do), then congressional Democrats would be placed in an intolerable political position for 2016: join the Republican bandwagon or support an unpopular president’s unpopular vetoes.