They call it silly season: the time period just before an election when politicians do and say things they’d never do otherwise. Most members of Congress want, some desperately, to be re-elected again and again. Senators only face election every six years, but those poor House members have to go through that crucible every other year.
Unfortunately, the prospect of a looming election changes dramatically the tone and tenor in Washington. Everything is viewed through the lens of a particular member’s chance at re-election or a particular party’s shot at the majority. In many cases, this phenomenon is the absolute strength of our democracy. The fact that the people determine their representatives helps keep Congress accountable.
However, from time to time, toxic politics and irrational fears connected to the election drive decision-making in the wrong direction on Capitol Hill. Members are so afraid that a particular vote might hurt them, that they would prefer not to vote at all. From a political standpoint, not every vote is an easy decision. Voting “yes” may win over some constituents but alienate others, and it’s impossible to do the math on each category in advance. In response, sometimes members act only out of fear they’ll anger some group of constituents and hope that none of these tough votes come up in an election year.
It’s been noted many times that a president’s first year, and even his first 100 days, are the most active. However, the lesser-known misfortune is just how little, by comparison, is often accomplished in election years. With so much going wrong within our government, it is unacceptable that 2018 would be one of those years, or that this Congress would fall into the trap that doing nothing and thinking that it’s better to anger no one than do something.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a major accomplishment, but Republicans need to build on it, not rest on it. Yes, the TCJA will jumpstart the economy and help maintain the momentum President Trump has injected into it. However, the tax code wasn’t the only problem with our government — not by a long shot. So it can’t be the only thing Republicans fix.
Perhaps the most important function of government is to keep us safe. To do that, the government needs to avoid a military readiness crisis. Unfortunately, without intervention, that’s exactly what we’re headed for. However, in exchange for more defense spending, Democrats are trying to extract policy victories they can run on. That’s unacceptable. Republicans should abandon the idea of a bipartisan budget deal that jacks up every category of federal spending and find a way to fully fund the U.S. military without bankrupting the country.
The best health care in the World is available in the United States, but Americans are confused about that because the government has so bungled the policies and regulations that govern health insurance. Americans deserve the benefit of the free market for one of the expensive and important products they buy: health insurance. Republicans need to deliver on their promise to restore affordable coverage and unshackle Americans from their health care plans.
The national debt exceeds $20 trillion, and annual deficit spending only adds to that total every year. Republicans must act on their promises to restore fiscal order and make the hard choices required to balance the budget.
The size of the welfare state has swelled out of control in the last two decades while failing to lift Americans out of poverty. Republicans can reform these programs by creating incentives to work, and by eliminating dependency and fraud.
If Republicans took on this bold agenda, they’d probably lose a handful of votes, but if just once, a party kept their promises and went big in an election year instead of cowering in fear, Americans would take notice — and they’d have unprecedented electoral success.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 1/10/18