How did the Republican congressional majority pass the omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2016 that is almost universally despised by the right and loved by the left?
Democrat Senator and future leader of that party in the Senate Chuck Schumer broke D.C. protocol by telling the truth about how the minority party still controls the agenda when he gloated, “Sen. [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell wants to see the Senate work. But the good news for [Democrats] is, to make it work, he has to do basically our agenda.”
Before we start anointing Schumer as a master strategist, please note that a child could figure out that when the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House both go on record saying that they would not allow the government to shut down, the opposition party led by a President who actively disdains Congress should be able to run the table simply by threatening a shutdown. And that is what happened, Republican priorities got shunted aside because Obama and the Senate Democrats made them all poison pills.
Unfortunately, Republican leaders are unlikely to learn the lesson from the disastrous November-December 2015 legislative “successes” when they agreed to the education priorities of Obama sending cheers through his radical Department of Education, dramatically increased federal government spending, and funded Obama’s agenda for the remainder of his term in office.
Instead, stoked by the positive mentions amongst the lobbying, media and chattering classes, it is likely they will be searching for other Democrat priorities that they can join under the guise of governing. The power conscious Democrats know that so long as they never lose six Senators to a Republican priority, it will never come to the floor, and they can claim that the Senate majority is failing to lead the country and Republicans will panic.
When your first priority is to “govern” rather than diminishing the size and scope of government, you have nothing to counter the Democrats who make passing their agenda the price of governing.
One Democrat objective that threatens to raise its head in the upcoming months is legislation that changes sentencing structures and would release thousands of felons from federal penitentiaries just in time for Election Day. Ryan has already called this proposal “one of those areas that we’ve talked about getting things done.”
A not so subtle signal that dismantling the criminal sentencing system that was at least partially responsible for lowering the homicide rate to levels not seen since the 1960s is well on its way toward acceptance by Republicans. Fortunately, reports on Capitol Hill indicate that Majority Leader McConnell opposes the scheme and that may prove insurmountable on the issue.
Other Democrat priorities like reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act — which has been used by Obama’s Justice Department to attack states that seek to verify the identity of voters through showing a driver’s license — may also become election year fodder as Republicans continue to try to look good in the pages of the Washington Post.
All the while, Speaker Ryan will be mouthing the line that Congress needs to act on various measures to re-establish its Article One prerogatives. But recent history shows quite clearly, any legislation that President Obama is willing to sign, is not the product of compromise, but instead is wholesale surrender.
Rather than working with Obama to legislate his agenda, Congress needs to use its full oversight power to identify areas that need to be cut, expose Obama’s vast overreaches, and set the stage for a future Republican president to grab the reins upon inauguration with already vetted executive orders, funding rescissions and necessary regulatory changes to allow the next president to hit the ground running.
To some, pushing back against Obama’s government growth spurt might seem difficult, but to those who elected this congressional majority, it is called doing the job they were sent to Washington, D.C. to do.
After this latest omnibus debacle, it is up to rank and file GOP members of Congress on both sides of the Capitol to demand their leaders get tough on Obama and restore their legitimacy to lead.
Rick Manning is president of Americans for Limited Government.