I don’t think it’s simply the case, as Ramesh suggests, that Republicans should only take risks for legislation they expect will be signed into law. That would argue for a do-nothing House. Rather, they should take risks for legislation that will define the Republican policy agenda, define the negotiations that must take place between Republicans and Democrats in the course of this congress, define the most important policy debates of the day, and define the party in the minds of voters in the years to come.
Moreover, they should take risks to pass legislation that will define the Republican presidential primary race in 2012. As Ramesh says, the next Republican nominee will have to present a real entitlement-reform agenda. The Republican House should make sure of that by setting the bar for such an agenda, rather than setting an example of excessive timidity on the subject. They should set that bar through their budget resolution-which will serve as a kind of vision document for the Republican agenda. Passing that resolution will not mean enacting entitlement reforms-the resolution does not become law, and surely the Senate Democrats will pass a very different budget anyway. But it will at least mean putting down a marker and committing Republicans to real entitlement reform.
One consideration is that there is not likely to be a better time than now for Republicans to commit to real entitlement reform. It’s possible that the Democrats and President Obama will defeat the GOP in 2012, but they would probably have to do so with an 8 percent unemployment rate hung around their necks. If they can’t win the presidency with a mandate for reform under those favorable conditions, they probably aren’t ever going to get it.