With control comes new pressure to govern well
GOP tasked with job creation, tax cuts and ending Obamacare
For Republicans, there will be no one left to blame.
As they prepare to take control of the White House and both chambers of Congress next year, Republicans are celebrating the opportunity to enact a new agenda for the country, including lowering taxes, securing the border and repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law.
But with that opportunity comes massive political risk: If President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans don’t deliver, they will face a serious reckoning with voters. That could begin with the 2018 midterm elections, when every House member and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election.
“The American public has clearly said that they want to go a different direction,” said Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado. “And if we are not effective in moving in that different direction, they will take the opportunity away from us, and they will return it to the Democrats.”
Said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, speaking Friday at the Federalist Society: “It’s time to put up or shut up. There are no excuses.”
That sobering reality has been sinking in for GOP members of the House and Senate as they begin the early stages of planning an agenda for next year.
Republicans point out that although they will control a majority in the Senate with 52 votes, that’s well short of the 60-vote supermajority needed to advance most major initiatives, including Supreme Court nominees. So although Republicans would be able to use a legislative maneuver to send a health care repeal to Trump’s desk with just a simple majority, other major objectives, including immigration and border enforcement, would require some degree of cooperation from minority Democrats.
That could give Senate Democrats’ new leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, veto power over major chunks of Trump’s agenda. And it’s led to a call from some House Republicans for their Senate colleagues to try to push through a rules change to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster barrier.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is an institutionalist who has shown no enthusiasm for such a move. But Republicans fret that a shortage of votes in the Senate is not likely to be a winning political excuse to most voters who picked an outsider in Trump to bring wholesale change to Washington.
“We can talk about not having 60 in the Senate, but I think that our time to show that we can govern is now,” said GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida.
The Republican role on health care seems particularly risky to some in the party. Democrats have borne severe political consequences for pushing through the Affordable Care Act in 2010. They lost control of the House in that year’s midterm elections.
But if Republicans repeal it, as they are determined to do, they will be the ones responsible for whatever comes next. And given the enormous complexity of the U.S. health care system, which accounts for fully one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the potential for complications looks immense. Even after six years, Republicans have failed to unite around a single alternative to Obamacare, or a solution to ensure that the 20 million Americans who gained health coverage under the law don’t suddenly lose it. Schumer warned in an interview Friday that repealing the health care law would turn into “a political nightmare” for Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stands with fellow Senate Republican leaders at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington last week following a closed-door Republican policy luncheon.