If Republicans want a shot at winning the White House in 2016, Congress needs to shift into high gear — now, not next year. The start of the 114th Congress has been less than encouraging. After more than two months of control, the Republican-controlled Congress has sent President Obama just six bills, and the only measure supporting private sector job creation — the Keystone XL pipeline — failed to gather enough votes to overcome the president’s veto. That’s not a very promising start for what its leaders dubbed “the New American Congress,” especially when you consider the GOP has its largest House majority in more than 80 years.
In the 2014 elections, Republicans recaptured the Senate and increased their majority in the House, but it wasn’t because they offered a clear vision for growth and prosperity. Rather, Democrats lost because Americans were tired of big government overreach. Other than authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline — which President Obama unwisely vetoed — Republicans have done little but squabble internally. By contrast, the Democratic minority is unified and on the offensive — just look at the result of the Department of Homeland Security funding battle.
It’s time for Congressional Republicans to focus on legislative initiatives they can leverage to define the 2016 elections. By passing broadly popular legislation, they’ll force President Obama’s hand. If he vetoes these bills, the president paints himself as an obstructionist (as with Keystone); if he signs them, he shows voters Republicans are capable of governing. Either way, Republicans win.
With that in mind, here are five easy legislative wins for Republicans:
1. Club the patent trolls. Last year, the House overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation to end legalized extortion by patent trolls. Protected by the trial lawyers, these trolls don’t invent or make anything themselves — they just extort cash from real employers via weak or fraudulent patent-infringement claims. President Obama himself said the patent trolls should be slain, but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid killed the Senate bill last year — payback to trial lawyers for their campaign contributions to Democrats. The Republican-led Congress has an opportunity to send patent law reform legislation to the president, protecting small businesses from extortion that costs our economy $1.5 billion per week.
2. Allow the best and brightest to remain in America. President Obama and Republicans alike say they want the immigration laws changed to stop forcing top science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates from abroad to leave the U.S. upon graduation. We need smart people to create new businesses and ensure our biggest companies remain competitive in the world economy. Our country should be home to the world’s best and brightest minds.
3. Prepare for a win at the Supreme Court against Obamacare. The legal challenge to the administration’s federal health insurance subsidies to residents of the 36 states without their own health care exchanges is likely to succeed, because those subsidies are outside the statutory language of Obamacare. However, a legal win could leave many people without health insurance. No one knows for certain how the court will rule, but Republicans would be wise to heed Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) advice: “[I]n the event that the court strikes down the subsidies as illegal, Congress must be prepared to offer immediate, targeted protection to those hurt by this administration’s reckless disregard for the rule of law. Obamacare took these patients hostage. Conservatives have a duty to save them.” Being prepared will show Republicans know how to do the right thing and take the high ground.
4. Reopen the Internet. Spurred on by President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission shifted the Internet from the most successful free-market economic engine and consumer equalizer of our time to total government control. The new FCC rules mean the Internet will be treated as a Title II public utility, under regulatory regimes that date back to the telephone-monopoly era. These new rules shackle innovation and pose new legal risks on the Internet. Congress can mitigate the effects of this ruling by passing legislation that favors Open Internet while also encouraging investment and competition. Proposals by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) would create a complaint-and-resolution process at the FCC without the additional regulatory structures the questionable use of Title II entails. Congress has an opportunity to step and up do its job as a challenge to Title II winds its way through the court system.
5. Approve trade-promotion authority. Republicans in Congress have an opportunity to pass something else President Obama wants — authority for the next president to have an up-or-down vote by Congress on trade agreements. That authority expired in 2007, and without it the president can’t ensure our potential trade partners that Congress will give any proposal a timely review. Our most recent free trade agreements were in 2011 — since then, other countries have told the World Trade Organization they’d entered more than 40 agreements of their own while we’ve had none. Granting this trade authority means victories for congressional Republicans, future presidents, and our economy.
Right now, Republicans are squandering the promise of a Republican-led Congress. House and Senate leaders need to spend less time blocking, defunding, and deauthorizing and more time initiating and legislating. On these issues and many others Republicans have an opportunity to seize the middle ground and position the GOP as a party that takes action. The American people will be well served if they can keep score for the next election, tracking which party is prudent and which is political.
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