Very quickly and very decisively, congressional Republicans/conservatives should adopt a new strategy for legislating and communicating, one that specifically involves buying a full half-hour of national TV time the night before Barack Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address.
The fundamentals of the strategy should be these: 1) clear, straightforward messages; 2) legislating in easily understandable, smaller chunks rather than huge “omnibus”-style bills; 3) highlighting specifics that make the conservative case a populist one; 4) producing key legislation in a way timed for maximum public exposure but without frightening brinksmanship; 5) be creative/entrepreneurial in promoting conservative principles; and 6) of crucial importance, become adept at using real-life examples, rather than broad generalities, to explain the deleterious effects of leftist policies and the beneficial effects of conservative ones.
Every effort should be made to set a different agenda than the deliberate inculcation of crises pushed by Obama; every opportunity should be taken to put Obama on the defense, on issues not of his own choosing.
Obama’s biggest weaknesses right now are Obamacare and its new taxes, his crony capitalist tax breaks, and his refusal to accept even the most obvious of savings from federal largesse. Even if he wants to focus on the debt ceiling, conservatives instead should focus on the unpopular specifics of Obamacare. Make him own, and politically suffer for, his expensive, snake-oil prescription for rationing health care.
With those considerations foremost in mind, here are steps Republicans should quickly take in the next couple of months, with the half-hour TV buy (about which, stay tuned) highlighting the offensive just four weeks from now.
First, the very first bill the House should pass, within 120 hours of reconvening, should repeal the medical device tax from Obamacare. It will easily pass the House; in the Senate, with 18 Democrats on record wanting to repeal it, there must be a way — through enlisting both the full attention of conservative media and elements of the “establishment media” as well — to shame Harry Reid into a vote on repeal. (If not, the obvious alternative is to make him and Obama suffer politically for refusing to allow one.)
Second, on the day after that, the House ought to pass a repeal of two other Obamacare taxes that just took effect on Jan. 1: the Flex Account tax that especially hurts special-needs children and the limit on medical itemized deductions.
Third, on the same day as these other ObamaCare taxes are repealed, pass a separate bill “paying for” the forgone revenue of all three Obamacare taxes by eliminating the “active financing exception” that helps allow General Electric to escape paying any corporate income taxes. This king of all special-interest tax breaks was forced into the “Fiscal Cliff” deal at the insistence of the White House, which has been mutually whoring around with and/or pimping GE’s leaders for years.
This bill will emphasize a new “meme” in American politics: the “corrupt corporate cronyism” of Barack Obama. (More on this, soon.)
Fourth (as discussed in a column and blog post I wrote last week), quickly pass a bill exempting defense spending from sequestration — and accompany this bill, too, with a major press offensive. This isn’t likely to actually succeed in sparing defense (although it will set a marker for later in restoring at least some of the cuts while still meeting some moderately lower “budget caps” overall for defense), if only because Obama is so shameless and has such disdain for the military. But it will provide cover for all Republicans, including defense hawks, to stand firm in doing absolutely nothing else with regard to the sequester. If Congress does nothing, the automatic savings from the sequester will take effect no matter how much Obama screams — and those savings will help mitigate the national debt damage, save long-term taxpayer money, and provide political leverage for conservatives in other budget fights to come. And most voters can be made to realize, when the smoke clears, that none of those cuts harmed their own lives one iota, which will bolster conservative credibility for even larger budget battles to come.
Before moving on, let’s recap: So far, with this plan, conservatives can put the focus back on Obamacare, already unpopular, and specifically on its potentially most unpopular provisions. Suddenly, Obama again becomes the bad guy. To further that all-too-true impression, conservatives will have focused attention on Obama’s corrupt corporate cronyism. Also, so far, we’ve unified defense hawks and younger budget cutters behind a “let the sequester happen” stance. If defense is exempted from the sequester as a result of these efforts, budget caps can still be used later to find Pentagon savings; if it is not exempted, public pressure will likely suffice to force a restoration of some of the meat-cleavered military needs.
Okay, to continue….
Fifth, prepare, as an all-purpose “offset” bill or series of distinct bills (in other words, to offer in exchange for other tax cuts, or as a way to provide the “revenue” Obama demands), for the repeal of each one of the most egregious special-interest loopholes and tax breaks that Obama snuck into the Fiscal Cliff bill. Make Obama defend the Hollywood tax credit. Make him defend the bird-killing wind-energy credit. Make him defend other energy tax-credit boondoggles (while focusing attention on Solyndra and other embarrassments). It is not a conservative habit, but an Obamite one, to curry favor with special corporate interests.
Sixth, prepare a series of real-life anecdotes about the harms caused by Obama’s policies. This will, of course, take research to find the real people who fill the bill. The research will be worth the effort. Most Americans, paying only slight attention to the details of all these budget fights, almost immediate filter out the usual Republican talking points about “protecting small business owners,” “helping employers,” and the like. But human-interest stories, if told concisely and/or with verve, work.
For instance, imagine John and Sally McGood. While Obama was giving special breaks to GE and to Hollywood, he was trying, and is still trying, to raise their income taxes directly by $7,200 — and, in other ways, doing even worse to them. John and Sally own a family pharmacy, competing in their small town with the big national chains. Their business runs on a revolving loan from a bank increasingly regulated by Obamite appointees (which makes them skittish about continuing the loan going forward). The McGoods do pay themselves salaries commensurate with other ordinary pharmacists at the big chains — but their big “profits,” which also get reported as income because they are a “C” corporation, exist on paper only. Their business “earned” $450,000 last year, but almost every penny of that is funneled back into the pharmacy and into the revolving loan fund. So when Obama wants to raise their taxes by $7,200, he is directly taking away their ability to hire a part-time clerk to allow them time for… their special needs child.
For years, they have been paying for the special-education needs of that child via a “Flexible Spending Account.” Obamacare now limits that exemption to $2,500, thousands below what the McGoods have been using. So not only do the McGoods have extra costs now in order to pay for their child’s education, but (if Obama succeeds in raising taxes on couples making over $250,000 rather than over $450,000) they would have less time to meet the child’s need because they can’t afford the part-time clerk. (Meanwhile, the clerk, a young woman trying to put herself through classes at the University of Phoenix — another institution that has had to retrench due to Obama policies — would be out of a desperately needed job.) ….
Okay, you get the picture. Surely in all the world of Republican PR experts there exists somebody with the skill to package stories like these in ways that finally cut through the fog of rhetoric and impress the public that Obama’s proposals hurt ordinary Americans. The point is not to get lost in the details, but to put human faces front and center on the conservative side of the debate.
Those human faces, and real human needs, ought to be in the forefront of conservative politics from now on. Conservatives must demonstrate the true compassion of the free market, so that in regaining “compassion” for conservatism they need not provide a government program to make that compassion real.
With true human compassion, not government’s ersatz variety, foremost in our minds, we now are barely halfway into the new set of strategies, tactics, and messages that are needed (including, to repeat, a half-hour TV buy) for the next three imminent budget fights and beyond. More on those in the next column right here in this space, later this week.