Political Hay

Unsolicited Advice for the GOP

The Republicans' first big test in their new minority role is coming up Friday -- and they'll need Mr. Bush's cooperation.

By 1.10.07

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Despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promise for "the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history," the Democratic Leadership has decided that for at least the first few weeks, all bills will be closed to discussion. The Democrats have decided to restrict Republican participation, cancel public debate, and forego the usual committee hearings.

Consequently, a great deal of whining and righteous indignation is emanating from the Republican side of the aisle as the new Congress gets underway.

Come on, guys, get over it. Stop acting like a bunch of babies and just accept the fact that you brought it on yourselves because of the way you treated Democrats for more than a decade. These are the same Democrats, by the way, who brought it on themselves for treating you in much the same manner during the previous four decades when they controlled Congress.

Here is some unsolicited advice to Republicans for the Democrats' first 100 hours in power, during which they are attempting to ram through the House the legislative agenda they ran on last November. First, Republicans should accept the fact that Democrats have the votes in the House to pass this agenda and that they are entitled to do so. Democrats can legitimately claim a mandate from the electorate to advance their platform, regardless of how ill-conceived it may be.

Second, it is the Republicans' job as the minority to resist bad policy from a majority flush with the hubris of gaining control of Congress for the first time in more than a decade. So, rather than playing political games and casting what may seem like a "free" vote to curry favor, Republicans should vote against the Democratic agenda if they aren't granted an opportunity to improve it.

Third, for those Democratic proposals that are really pernicious -- like the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007 -- Republicans must have the mettle to use the filibuster in the Senate, if necessary, as the Democrats did so often during the era of Republican control.

Fourth -- and this is advice to you, Mr. President -- use the presidential veto, and use it strategically. The veto threat is the fastest way to bring Democrats to the bargaining table and to foster real bipartisan policymaking.

THE FIRST TEST OF WHETHER THE REPUBLICANS are up to the challenge of working together as an effective minority will come this Friday when the Democrats put the Price Negotiation bill on the floor. It will pass the House. The only question is whether the President will inform the nation ahead of time that he intends to veto the House bill if it appears on his desk. The President must step up on behalf of Republicans and make his intention to veto the bill known. If he doesn't, it will send an unambiguous signal to Congress that he is willing to sign the House bill.

The Democratic strategy is to water down so-called "price negotiations" in the House sufficiently so that a significant number of Republicans vote for the legislation. Once the bill goes over to the Senate, the Democrats will stage a drama in which they try to put real teeth into the measure. This tactic is designed to give the Conference Committee something to throw into the garbage can, granting the President a face-saving "victory," and allowing him to sign the House version of the bill by claiming that it's toothless and symbolic.

This bill, therefore, is a critical test of the Republicans' capacity to act as an effective minority, protecting the country from ill-conceived schemes rammed through the House by the new majority.

If the President doesn't issue an immediate promise to veto the House bill, he will send an unambiguous signal to the Congress that he is willing to sign the measure. Presidential inaction at this point of the proceedings will set in motion a slow-motion collapse of Republican defenses and release a significant number of House Republicans to vote for the watered-down House bill. This will set the stage for a heroic victory in the Senate or in the Conference Committee, leading to a signature on what both sides will describe as a "compromise."

But enacting the House bill into law would have implications that are far from toothless and symbolic. It would be like smuggling an unloaded gun into a prison. Don't think for a minute that the bureaucrats at Medicare won't be able to find all the regulatory bullets they need to load the clip and turn that unloaded gun into a lethal weapon. Should Medicare bureaucrats gain possession of this regulatory weapon, senior citizens can look forward to government bureaucrats, ignorant of their medical needs, holding their prescription drug coverage hostage.

Now is the time for the President to make his intentions clear by promising a veto. Silence on the House bill is not an option.

Otherwise, puppet-masters Reid and Pelosi will stage their well-orchestrated drama in the Senate and the Conference Committee, tricking the President into thinking he's fending off an assault to put real teeth in the bill, with his signature on the House bill as a grand compromise.

President Bush should warn of this Trojan Horse by breaking his silence. Mr. President, we're waiting.

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About the Author
Lawrence A. Hunter is president of the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity.