Congressional Republicans Must Stop Trying to Please Everyone

COMMENTARY Conservatism

Congressional Republicans Must Stop Trying to Please Everyone

Aug 6th, 2017 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Tommy Binion

Director, Congressional and Executive Branch Relations

Thomas is responsible for Heritage's many programs on Capitol Hill and its engagement with the administration.

Key Takeaways

The Republicans had given their base every expectation that they could and would follow through on their promises.

Republicans in Congress have accomplished little, and appear completely stymied and unable to turn these promises into reality.

The real problem is a fundamental disagreement within the ranks of elected Republicans.

For eight years, Democrats controlled at least one piece of the constitutional authority to legislate, and Republicans could only dream of advancing even one part of their legislative agenda. On Jan. 20, 2017, that dream became a reality for the first time since 2007.

Repeal and replace Obamacare … Pursue tax reform that lowers rates for families and businesses and broadens the tax base … Repeal Dodd-Frank … Enact the REINS Act (regulatory reform) … Remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood, sanctuary cities, and biased news sources … Enforce immigration laws … Secure the border … Balance the budget … Reform entitlements … Rebuild the military … Restore a conservative majority on the Supreme Court … Protect religious liberty … Enhance protections for unborn children … Unleash the American energy sector.

Whether they like it or not, this is more or less the platform that put the Republican Party in control of the White House, the House and the Senate. In 2016, the voters gave Republicans all the tools it needs to accomplish every bit of that bold agenda and more. For their part, the Republicans had given their base every expectation that they could and would follow through on these promises.

There are a few notable exceptions: Justice Neil Gorsuch’s appointment and confirmation to the court, President’s Trump’s unilateral actions on immigration enforcement and border security, and extensive use of the Congressional Review Act to rollback President Obama’s midnight regulations. Outside of those things, Republicans in Congress have accomplished little, and appear completely stymied and unable to turn these promises into reality.

A few obvious scapegoats come to mind. The first is recalcitrant Democrats content to appease their base by utterly refusing to engage in the process, even to the point of senseless delay and merely temporary obstruction. The second is the Senate filibuster, which allows a unified Democratic party to block Republicans from pursuing some legislation in some circumstances. The third is an unfriendly and biased media, which often misreports the facts about the legislative process. 

But on closer examination, each of these excuses falls short. The filibuster doesn’t apply to Obamacare repeal or tax reform, yet Republicans in the Senate aren't close to achieving that goal. Furthermore, there are 10 Senate Democrats running in states that President Trump carried in 2016. How, then, are Republicans unable to bring them along with any piece of legislation?

The real problem is a fundamental disagreement within the ranks of elected Republicans. Some Republicans - mainly conservatives in the Republican Study Committee, the House Freedom Caucus and the Senate Steering Committee - want to take action that precipitates sweeping change. Other more cautious, moderate and even liberal members of the Republican conference want to avoid rocking the boat or angering any of their Democratic constituents.

These two groups of Republicans are in constant conflict. One is driven by the promises of the last election, while the other is concerned only with the potential consequences of the next one.

The policy outcomes of these two groups would be dramatically different. But the policy outcomes of inaction are simply the status quo - a disastrous result for Republicans across the board.

If Republicans are going to keep their promises, those in the moderate ranks are going to have to wake up. Their attempts to govern from the middle and appease their Democratic constituents are futile.

The picture painted by the “resist” movement is clear. Republicans of any sort will be rejected by entrenched Democrats who hate them for their success and their platform. But Republicans who refuse to do in Washington what they promised back home they would do will be dismissed by their own base.

They can't please everyone. It's time to make a choice. 

This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 6/6/17